Gatland dispenses with Jones and Popham

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Never mind the great redeemer, Warren Gatland is more like the grim reaper. Yesterday he brought his scythe down on Mark Jones and Alix Popham, two members of the Wales squad who travelled triumphantly back from Twickenham on Saturday expecting a slap on the back, not in the face.

All in all, the Wales coach made three changes to his starting XV to face Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday, bringing in the debutant Jamie Roberts for Jones, on the wing, Tom Shanklin for Sonny Parker, at centre, and Ian Evans for Alun Wyn Jones in the second row. The first two were selectional and the latter because of the Osprey lock's ankle injury. But the decision which marked Gatland down as truly ruthless came on the bench where Popham was jettisoned for Gloucester's Gareth Delve.

Most experts believed that Popham had a stirring impact when coming on for Jonathan Thomas after just 15 minutes. So too, did Gatland – but to his mind the impact was so nearly costly. "After reviewing last week's match we've given Alix a few things to work on," Gatland said. Like what? "Well, like not giving away too many penalties, one of which could have resulted in a yellow card. Things like that." Ouch. This Kiwi is clearly not for messing.

"When you beat England at Twickenham you don't feel the need to make changes to a winning side, but there are areas we think we can improve," Gatland added. "Some of the boys were quite surprised at how critical we've been of their performances. The message at this level is: 'You have to be accurate'. Unless we criticise and point out faults, how do you get better?"

For Roberts, who stands 6ft 4in tall and weighs just under 17st, it has been a rapid rise from full-time medical student, part-time rugby player to a Wales international in less than a season. "It is crazy to think that last year I was down the pub with the boys to watch the Wales games – and now I will be playing on Saturday," the Blues wing said.

Roberts is in the third year of a medical degree but has taken the next eight weeks off. He will sit his exams in the summer with plans to complete the remaining two years on a part-time basis. "It is rugby all the way for the next eight weeks," the 21-year-old said. "And then I will be cramming in the revision."

Wales team (v Scotland, Six Nations Championship, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday, kick-off 2.0pm): L Byrne (Ospreys); J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), M Phillips (Ospreys); Duncan Jones (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements: M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Deniol Jones (Cardiff Blues), G Delve (Gloucester), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker (Ospreys).

Comments