Rugby World Cup 2015: Sam Warburton expects strong England test
Wales captain Sam Warburton runs the rule over injury-hit England ahead of 2015 Rugby World Cup
England have been hit with a string of World Cup setbacks but Wales captain Sam Warburton still expects to lead his side out against one of the most complete teams in world rugby later this year.
Stuart Lancaster’s preparations have not been smooth, with Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley already ruled out for disciplinary reasons, as the England head coach prepares to whittle his World Cup squad down to 31.
I don’t believe they are the ten-man side that a lot of ill-advised fans will have you believe
They will face Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay in a tricky pool with the top two progressing to the knockout stages, well aware that any slip-ups could see the Red Rose fall at the first hurdle.
However, Warburton is adamant that England – who beat his side at the Millennium Stadium back in February – will not be significantly weakened by their absences.
“We have experienced setbacks in terms of players getting injured – it’s just the way it is and I think it’s something every team has to deal with,” said Warburton, who is a Land Rover ambassador.
“I have played against England maybe five times now and I am aware of what they are capable of doing and not capable of doing, as I am sure they are with us.
“I don’t believe they are the ten-man side that a lot of ill-advised fans will have you believe. We have got to cover all facets of the game to beat a top England team.”
Meanwhile, the openside flanker is relishing another head-to-head battle with opposite number Chris Robshaw at the home of rugby in September.
“When it comes to international level, now and then they sometimes pinpoint the sevens to be a crucial one-on-one battle but every game you play now it is going to be a key battle,” Warburton added.
“I have a massive amount of respect for Chris and he fully deserves the captaincy and what comes with it. Hopefully I will make the team and I can play at Twickenham against him.”
Elsewhere on the pitch, Wales are missing a key man of their own following the news that British & Irish Lions and Clermont centre – not to mention European Champions Cup finalist – Jonathan Davies will miss the World Cup with a knee injury.
But Warburton expects 24-year-old Scott Williams, who showed glimpses of what he can do during this year’s Six Nations, to step up to the plate.
“The injury to Jonathan Davies is a massive blow but we have the perfect replacement,” he said.
“Scott has been part of the spine of the team for the last few years and it is just unfortunate that he has got two British Lions who play in the centres in front of him.
“He has been brilliant for so long and we couldn’t have had a better man to step up in Jonathan’s absence. He has started for Wales a lot of times already and people remember the solo try he scored at Twickenham back in 2012 but he has been playing immensely for the Scarlets for a long time.”
Much like Lancaster, Wales boss Warren Gatland must whittle his training squad down to a final 31 following a string of camps and Warburton is eager to see the hopefuls put through their paces.
And with the likes of Gloucester back row Ross Moriarty, Exeter Chiefs prop Tomas Francis and Bristol fly-half Matthew Morgan all included, the captain believes there is room for a wildcard or two.
“The squad is such a good bunch of boys and any time a new player comes in, everybody welcomes them with open arms. It sort of happens naturally so the new boys will fit right in,” said the 26-year-old.
“From my experience in the 2011 World Cup there are players who might have been on the fringe of the squad at this stage but they worked their way into the World Cup.
“Everybody has got an opportunity. The coaches are very much of the opinion that if you are in form, then you will be given a crack. If you are good enough, then you are old enough.”
Sam Warburton is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover, a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015, will be recruiting two official Rugby World Cup 2015 mascots at a beach rugby festival on Barry Island on Saturday July 4. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal