Warburton: 'It's the biggest game of our lives next week. We haven't won anything yet'
Sunday 09 October 2011
Confidence is growing that Wales can reach their first World Cup final but the biggest challenge facing Warren Gatland is keeping a lid on the growing expectation surrounding his young team.
Jamie Roberts and James Hook were among those who insisted the job in New Zealand was "only half-done" with their quarter-final victory over Ireland.
Hook voiced the confidence within the squad when he admitted Wales would be "silly" not to believe they can go the distance, while excitement is already growing back home with plans afoot to screen next week's semi-final against France at the Millennium Stadium.
Wales coach Gatland believes his young team are revelling in escaping the "goldfish bowl" of Welsh rugby. He said: "One of the good things about these young guys is that they don't have any baggage or a fear-factor about who they play.
"Another great thing is being out of the bubble of Welsh rugby. They're not listening to the negativity that can sometimes come out of Wales. Out here they can just get on with it.
"We spoke before the game about how proud Wales should be of these guys, the hard work they've put in over the past five months and the way they have been ambassadors out here. But we weren't ready to go home yet.
"We were always quietly confident and, while I don't want this to sound arrogant, we always believed we could win this game and win it comfortably."
That they did after Shane Williams' third-minute try set them on course for a sixth win from their last seven games. But it was a wonder try from man of the match Mike Phillips, shortly after his kick led to Keith Earls levelling the scores, that sent Wales clear.
Phillips said: "It was a historic win for Wales, a great achievement. The boys were outstanding in their preparation and lead-up for this game.
"We all have so much respect for the Irish players. I got to know them on the Lions tour and I feel sorry for them because they are all great players. But full credit to us, we were superb today.
"I felt it was my fault when Keith Earls scored because I should have kicked the ball out. I cost us a try and I needed to repay the team and, thankfully, I scored."
Wales will not be cracking open the champagne just yet, despite reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1987; skipper Sam Warburton refused to lift the team's alcohol ban as they target a place in the final for the first time. "The boys know they've got the biggest game of their lives next weekend," said Warburton, "so we're not about to undo all that hard work for one night out. The first thing said on the pitch after the game was that we haven't won anything yet. We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground if we are going to go all the way."
Wales have injury concerns over Luke Charteris and Rhys Priestland, who both left the field after heavy blows and will be further assessed today.
Ireland will return home tomorrow knowing this ageing side, which won the Grand Slam in 2009, had blown their chance of a glorious swansong.
Ireland's captain Brian O'Driscoll said: "We were off the pace and we're going home as a result of that.
"I won't get this opportunity again and that really sucks. But life goes on."
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