Rugby World Cup 2011: Forward-thinking Gatland hailed for helping Welsh youngsters flourish

Leigh HALFPENNY has hailed Wales coach Warren Gatland’s talent-spotting ability ahead of tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown against France.

Full-back Halfpenny, 22, will be among eight players aged 23 or under in Wales’ matchday group for the Eden Park showdown. Such a statistic is testament to Gatland’s belief in young players, many of whom have taken this World Cup by storm.

“Warren spots talent, and once he sees that he believes in the player and brings him in,” Halfpenny said. “It has brought a new dimension to the team, and it is paying off. We have just gone about our business quietly and have always believed we could be serious contenders. We have strength in depth.

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“I hope we are inspiring young kids. Young players have come into the side and played how they know they can. They have brought a freshness and given a real buzz to the atmosphere. I went from the (Wales) under-20s to the Lions in one year. At the start of that season I was hoping to play for Cardiff RFC and maybe get a couple of chances for the (Cardiff) Blues. Suddenly, I was playing for Wales.”

Meanwhile, Australia will give full-back Kurtley Beale every chance to prove his fitness for Sunday’s semi-final against New Zealand. Beale is recovering from a hamstring strain that has twice forced him off during the tournament.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has named Beale in his provisional starting line-up but he has also outlined a contingency plan that would see Adam Ashley-Cooper switch to full-back and Anthony Fainga’a start at outside centre.