Gatland to 'freshen up' Wales by naming team early

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The Independent Online

The Wales coach, Warren Gatland, will today name the team to face Italy in Cardiff, 11 days before the match.

Traditionally the team is named in the week of a Test, but Gatland, who is expected to make some changes to the side that beat Scotland, explained that he wanted to give the new line-up more time to prepare.

Chief among the changes expected is a start for the experienced half-back pair Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel. Gatland said: "I'm not talking wholesale changes but giving players who have been on the bench an opportunity to start. They will freshen us up, give enthusiasm and impetus."

With Wales having won their opening two Six Nations contests, rumours are racing around the Principality that Gatland will coach the 2009 British and Irish Lions in South Africa.

Even the Welsh Rugby Union has been sucked into the hype with chief executive, Roger Lewis, reported as saying that an approach for Gatland's services by the four home unions would be considered. But last night Gerald Davies, manager of the 2009 tour, said: "We will not be talking to anyone until the conclusion of the Six Nations Championship. We are spreading our net wide. We are not just considering national coaches."

Davies said that the appointment would be announced in May after the Lions committee, comprising representatives of the home unions, had interviewed all the candidates.

Three Scotland players, including captain Jason White, were unable to take part in training yesterday.

White, who went off after getting a blow to the head in the first half in Cardiff, is "improving". Team doctor James Robson said: "Jason will require being free of any dizziness after exercise before conclusive tests can be conducted to determine when he can resume rugby."

Fellow forwards Nathan Hines (chest infection) and Jim Hamilton (shoulder) also missed training, while Simon Webster (hamstring) is also out.

The French club Toulon yesterday confirmed the signing of Springbok lock Bakkies Botha. The 28-year-old has agreed a three-year deal with the club.

Premier Rugby Limited has asked Wasps to provide a full report on Sunday's fiasco whereby the match against Sale was called off at the last minute because part of the Adams Park pitch was frozen. Although PRL has the power to impose a fine or dock the club Premiership points, the indications are that no further action will be taken.