Rugby Union

Sam Warburton: We have to move on

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Sam Warburton insists Wales must move on from the World Cup double blow of losing Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb.

Scrum-half Webb, last season's Welsh player of the year, was ruled of the tournament on Tuesday with a foot injury suffered in the 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.

The news came a little more than 15 hours after British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny, one of the best goal-kickers in world rugby, was told he was out of the tournament after suffering knee ligament damage in the closing stages of the Italy game.

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"I am gutted for both Rhys and Leigh because you see how hard they have worked throughout the summer," Warburton said.

"It has been two or three months of the most gruelling pre-season we have ever had and not to be able to make a World Cup is agonising.

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"It's tough enough when it's part of the club season or missing the autumn internationals or a Six Nations, but to miss a World Cup where every player wants to play is devastating.

"Rhys has not played in a World Cup yet and will have to wait another four years before he has that chance again."

Warburton, however, stressed that the brutal nature of sport means Wales have no time to dwell on their bad fortune.

Wales open their World Cup campaign against Uruguay in Cardiff on September 20 and six days later play hosts England at Twickenham in a game which could go a long way to defining their tournament.

Fiji and Australia are also in Pool A and Warburton says the injuries will not affect their preparations ahead of the competition.

"People look at this as life and death but we have to move on," Warburton said.

"Guys will be disappointed for the individuals because we are all friends, but as a team it won't affect our World Cup preparations.

"I believe we can still achieve what we set out to do. You don't just win a World Cup on two players."

"It is more than just a 15-man game and when we almost beat South Africa in the second Test last summer, neither Rhys nor Leigh were playing.

"We are quite used to playing in big matches where we have not had front-line players available and I believe we have the strength in depth to replace Rhys and Leigh.

"You just have to look at New Zealand in the last World Cup as who believed they could win after losing Dan Carter?"

Ospreys wing Eli Walker comes into the squad with James Hook and Gareth Anscombe overlooked, and outside-half Dan Biggar is set to be handed the goal-kicking duties in Halfpenny's absence.

And veteran Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips will get the opportunity to play at this third World Cup having been surprisingly overlooked when Warren Gatland trimmed his squad to 31 players last month.

"Mike is a two-time British Lion and has more than 90 Welsh caps, so you couldn't really have a better replacement," Warburton said.

"We couldn't be luckier than have someone like him waiting to come in, he will pick the morale up and everyone will be pleased to see him again because he is a great character.

"He would have known there was a good chance he was going to be called back up to the squad - so he has probably been looking after himself out in France."

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Topics:
Leigh Halfpenny
Wales Rugby
Sam Warburton
Rugby Union
IRB Rugby World Cup

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