Gatland delays naming team as pivotal pair fight for fitness

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Two of the fastest-improving members of a Wales team who suddenly find themselves 80 minutes or so from a first World Cup final have been slowed to a standstill by injury just at the wrong moment and are significant doubts for this weekend's last-four tie with France at Eden Park. The Scarlets outside-half Rhys Priestland, a rank outsider in the race for the No 10 shirt as recently as the beginning of August, and the Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris are causing such concern that the coaching team delayed their team selection yesterday.

Some believe that even if he is named in the starting line-up today, Priestland has little chance of recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered in the closing minutes of the quarter-final victory over Ireland last weekend, although the Red Dragon camp will give their medics every opportunity to get him fit.

Warren Gatland, the head coach, is not bereft of options at stand-off given that he has the reigning British and Irish Lions playmaker Stephen Jones at his disposal, not to mention a midfielder as gifted as James Hook. However, Priestland has been a very big hit in this tournament and the shape he puts on his team's attacking game is at the heart of their success.

Charteris (above) was gone by half-time in Wellington, having made 16 tackles in the opening period. Like Priestland, he has a shoulder issue. Earlier in the week he was confident he would be "good to go" this weekend, but his condition has not improved as expected. Should he be ruled out, Bradley Davies of Cardiff Blues is his likely replacement, although the Welsh have used the former captain Ryan Jones in the engine room on the odd occasion.

The Australians, who take on their great Bledisloe Cup rivals New Zealand on Sunday, are also firefighting on the injury front, but they at least have their resident Maori, the Waikato-born Quade Cooper, to shift the spotlight away from the medical room and on to centre stage, where he loves to operate as a high-risk outside-half.

Hardly the most popular man in this country, the exiled local has been given a rough ride by home supporters over the course of the tournament. Yesterday, he did a good job in turning the tables on them. Asked how New Zealanders would react to a sixth successive World Cup failure, especially if he turned out to be the man who condemned them to it, he replied: "That would be a tough one for them to swallow, I guess, but I'm sure they've more things to worry about than me. They were supposed to win the tournament on each of the last three occasions and this one is no different."

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