Sam Warburton influence hailed by Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny has hailed the on and off-field leadership of Wales captain Sam Warburton as the flanker prepares to lead the Six Nations champions on their three-Test tour of Australia.

Warburton has suffered a series of niggling injuries since Wales’ march to the World Cup semi-finals, and was limited to just 160 minutes of their Grand Slam campaign. But the 23-year-old has now recovered from a shoulder nerve injury.

Warburton was only handed the captaincy due to injury to hooker Matthew Rees, but the Cardiff Blues flanker was assured during the World Cup and dealt well with the disappointment of his semi-final red card.

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He has also won praise for setting an example to the older members of the squad, some of whom had been involved in alcohol-related incidents in recent years. And his Blues team-mate Halfpenny said: “Sam is massive for us, not just as a player. He is such a great leader. We had a good win against Ireland in the World Cup [quarter-finals] where we could easily have gone out and celebrated.

“But we still felt we had unfinished business and we had another game. Sam called us together and said we would have a curfew and every single player was in by that time. There are examples like that where we are just professional in everything we do and Sam leads that.”

For full-back Halfpenny, 23, the tour to Australia will cap a brilliant season which started with a race against time to make the World Cup squad due to a foot injury. He said: “It is great to reflect on it, it’s been a good year.

“We are still hungry for what’s to come, for that challenge of playing a southern hemisphere team in their backyard.”