Warburton a 'worthy pain'
Wellington - Wales captain Sam Warburton emerged from his team's Rugby World Cup opening loss to South Africa as man-of-the-match and recipient of complimentary plaudits from Springbok counterpart John Smit.
Warburton, 22, was an ever-present in Wales' tactics of "flooding" the breakdown area: throwing bodies at a ruck in a desperate bid to force turnovers and disrupt the opposition's patterns of play.
The 22-year-old Cardiff-born openside flank also produced a sterling defensive effort, notching up 20 tackles in a hard-hitting match in which the Springboks made 178 tackles to stifle the Welsh with a final score of 17-16.
"He's a pain to play against, that's why he's getting man of the matches," Smit said of Warburton, who has an English father.
"He's unbelievable at the breakdown. They flood the breakdown and it's difficult to get a game going against them."
An obviously embarrassed Warburton was left squirming in his seat as Welsh coach Warren Gatland also heaped praise on Wales' youngest ever World Cup captain.
"I know a lot of people in the southern hemisphere don't know a lot about Sam," Gatland said.
"But if you were picking a Lions team now, he would be right up there in contention. He played against a world-class openside (in South Africa's Heinrich Brussow) and it was a very good battle."
Indeed, Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Tongan-born No 8 Toby Faletau all shone against the vaunted Springbok backrow of Brussouw, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies.
Warburton, standing 6'2" (1.88m) and weighing in at 16st 5lbs (104kg), has long been a captain in waiting for Wales.
Since displacing Martyn Williams from the number 7 shirt at Cardiff Blues and then for Wales, his rise to taking the armband has been predictable, notably after Matthew Rees was ruled out of the World Cup with a neck injury.
Warburton captained the Welsh under-19 side that finished fourth in the 2007 world championships, and then also skippered his country at the inaugural IRB World Junior Championships (under-20) in 2008.
After making his senior debut for Glamorgan Wanderers aged 17, Warburton progressed through the Blues academy and made his Wales debut against the United States in summer 2009. He won his 18th cap against South Africa on Sunday.
"Sam is class," said Wales lock Luke Charteris. "First of all he's a real genuine, real good bloke off the field, which you have to be to be a skipper.
"He has the respect of all the boys because of the kind of guy he is off the field, but on the field he's world class.
"To say that about a 22-year-old is pretty rare, but at that age he's already proven himself against the world's top players on the world stage."