GREG GROWDEN June 09, 2012
Charging through … Wales's Sam Warburton takes on Namibia at last year's World Cup in New Zealand. Photo: Andy Jackson
SAM WARBURTON is delighting in the fact he can wander around Brisbane this week without anyone pestering him about rugby. As long as he does not wear the Welsh garb, he has generally been left alone.
That is in contrast to what occurs at home in Cardiff, where as Wales captain he has found himself elevated to star status, especially after captaining his nation to an emphatic Six Nations triumph, and also being the country's favourite sob story after his controversial sending off during last year's World Cup.
All of Wales still wonders what if Warburton had not received a red card for a dangerous tackle on French winger Vincent Clerc in the semi-final, especially as his team were in control. With their high-quality No.7 gone, and Wales down one man for the final hour, they fell to the French 9-8. Thus ended their World Cup pursuit.
So it is no surprise that whenever Warburton shows his face in Wales - a country as obsessed as New Zealand about rugby - he is soon surrounded by well-wishers and questioners.
''It is completely different to a year or two ago,'' Warburton said yesterday. ''I remember getting such a big thrill when someone recognised me after my fifth cap against Samoa back in 2010. I was with my girlfriend and I had my chest held out as we walked around town.
''Now I try to avoid town. I go shopping on a Sunday afternoon just before the shops close. I do my food shopping at 9pm, when it closes at 10pm, so that I have a bit more peace. I love the support from the Welsh people, but the last 12 months has been an eye opener really. When you're part of a successful Welsh team, everyone wants a piece of you.
''I'm not one for the attention, but I've always wanted to be where I am now - Welsh captain. It is something I've wanted since I've been a kid. I'd imagine footballers in England in the premiership must have it ten times worse.
''But as my dad always said, 'No one will want to know you in 10 years, so make the most of it'.''
He is certainly making the most of it, but knows his popularity back home will drop if he is unable to lead Wales to a series victory over Australia, or is dominated by his opposing captain, David Pocock, in a compelling battle of the No.7s over the next three internationals. Warburton is as intrigued by the duel as anyone, because it is not something he is accustomed to.
''David deserves all the accolades he gets,'' Warburton said. ''There are some guys in the southern hemisphere who are small and squat, but he is definitely the most efficient one when it comes to the breakdown area. [Springbok Heinrich] Brussow has a similar style, but there is not too many players in the northern hemisphere of a similar mould. They tend to be taller, used as lineout options, or prefer ball carriers to fetchers.
''That's why it's nice to play in the southern hemisphere because you play against different style No.7s. I would say they are probably more difficult to play against, because they are more specialists in that position. That is better for the game, rather than having two blind-side flankers, which is what a lot of teams play in the north. Yes, I do admire the style they play down here.''
Trying to dominate Pocock will involve quiet efficiency. He has watched the tapes, worked on his game plan. But he is not going to tell the world. Warburton is not one for chest-beating statements. He just does his job. He approaches captaincy the same way.
''When you're skipper, players respect performances,'' he said. ''There's a lot of people who talk too much and say things on a Monday, Tuesday of a Test week which players have forgotten by the time they run out on the pitch. Not me. I've always been a believer that action speaks louder than words.''