Warburton goes back to the classroom as rugby offers more than World Cup fever to schools

Sam Warburton believes memories to last a lifetime can be created by Wales over the next six weeks at the Rugby World Cup.

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The former Wales and Lions captain - who retired through injury this time last year - has been assisting the Welsh Rugby Union in a plan to make sure the benefits of the World Cup are felt in schools across Wales.

This is less about rugby skills on the pitch, though, and more about learning and personal development in what is called a "WRU Digital Classroom" or "Dosbarth Digidol WRU".

The idea is to use rugby and the World Cup to assist with six areas of learning. They are: expressive arts; health and well-being; humanities; languages, literacy and communication; mathematics and numeracy; science and technology.

More than 250 primary schools have signed up and Warburton visited one of them - Ysgol Santes Tudful, in Merthyr - to help launch the programme.

Not only did the pupils show how they are using rugby in their all-round learning, but he was also given some fantastic good luck messages to pass on to his former teammates.

Afterwards, reflecting on what he admitted had been a moving welcome, the former Cardiff Blues player said he felt convinced that the power of rugby in Wales - and the impact it can have on children throughout the country - was something that was only now being fully harnessed.

"A lot of these initiatives can feel like they are just paying lip service, but going into classrooms and seeing reception kids running around with rugby balls - some of who may never have touched a rugby ball before - is very powerful," he says.

"So, too, is hearing them talk in group discussions about the emotions that rugby players are showing. It gives them confidence in talking about feelings and it's nice that rugby and the WRU can encourage that.

"These are the things that can make rugby a proper, national sport. It's not just about adults going to a rugby international match eight times a year. It's when everyone underneath gets rugby fever and then we can really call it a national sport.

"Whenever I go into primary schools, the first thing I talk about is being nervous and how that's okay. Kids see superheroes on TV, and think their sporting heroes are the same - that they are these emotionless, super-human people who don't get nerves.

"People think sports stars are impenetrable, but I always used to get nervous before every game. It was normal to feel like that, just as it's normal to feel nervous before a maths test.

"If we can make kids realise that nervous feelings are perfectly normal - that everyone gets them - then we can help them become more confident people. You don't have to be Iron Man to do something good in this world. You can be perfectly normal."

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Lynne Rose-Jones, deputy head at Ysgol Santes Tudful says:"As part of a great team of teachers and educators on this project, we had one focus - to bring Welsh rugby into the classroom.

"The benefits of rugby exist far beyond the game, whether you play or spectate, and we wanted to provide stimulating, interesting and exciting material for the classroom that demonstrated this.

"The project focuses on history, tradition, heart and integrity, coupled with the growth of inclusive rugby, on the field and beyond. The project is unique in that it originated in the Welsh language."

Of course, the focus of rugby in Wales is never higher than when the national team is competing in a World Cup.

Warburton played in, and was captain at, two tournaments. He guided Wales to the semi-finals in New Zealand in 2011 and then to the quarter-finals in England at the last tournament in 2015.

That might suggest that Wales are getting further away from the final, rather than nearer, but Warburton is convinced Wales can go all the way this time.

He says there are seven teams capable of winning the tournament and that Gatland's side are one of them - along with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland and France.

He adds:"I genuinely can't think there has been a more open World Cup in my lifetime.

"I find it hard to call a winner, because I know there is at least an 80 per cent chance I could be wrong. I think there are genuinely seven teams who could win this tournament.

"I can imagine a lot of teams just bottle-neck into good form when the group games turn in the knockout stages.Big teams are going to go out in the knockout stages, possibly, but definitely in the quarter-finals.

"It's literally wide open, which is great."

And if Wales do make it through to the final, then the player who led Englishmen, Irishmen and Scots for the Lions, reckons the whole of the UK will be Welsh for a day, at least.

"I'm Welsh first and foremost but I would support any of the home nations if they got to a final. I've been speaking to English ex-players and they're saying the same thing - if Wales get to a final then they're rooting for Wales.

"We've all been beating these southern hemisphere teams in Tests - but now we need to do it at a World Cup."