The Wales hierarchy had sensed the bad news coming down the track for some time, but when the confirmation finally arrived yesterday it was still hard to take. Matthew Rees, the 30-year-old hooker from the Rhondda who forced his way into the Lions Test front row in Springbok country two years ago before establishing himself as captain of the national team, will miss the forthcoming World Cup because of a serious neck injury that certainly requires surgery and may threaten his rugby career.
"It's incredibly disappointing for us to lose our captain, but there are more important things in life than rugby," said Shaun Edwards, assistant coach to the Red Dragonhood. "He is in such pain, rugby has to come second. You have to take the doctor's opinion and get the operation done because you can't live your life like that. Matthew normally has a bit of banter and likes a joke, but he is not himself. He can't sleep; he's in constant agony."
This is a bitter blow to Wales and removes some of the feel-good factor generated by their victory over England at the Millennium Stadium at the weekend. Rees, very much in his front-row prime, has long been regarded as the outstanding hooker in the Principality, and he cemented his reputation with his performances for the British Isles in 2009 – most notably in the second Test in Pretoria, when he joined his countrymen Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones in the first all-Welsh unit to play for the Lions in more than half a century.
Warren Gatland, the head coach, now has an issue on his hands. A top-class hooker during his own playing days, the New Zealander understands better than anyone the importance of having a dependable performer operating at the heart of the scrum – not to mention throwing in at the line-out.
Richard Hibbard, the Ospreys forward, is frequently talked of as a player of international potential, but he recently underwent shoulder surgery and is nowhere near match-hard, although he is in contention for Wales' final warm-up match with Argentina in Cardiff on Saturday. Other options include Lloyd Burns, Ken Owens and Huw Bennett.Reuse content