Leigh Halfpenny selected for Wales after arduous meeting
Thursday 06 October 2011
Wales coach Warren Gatland has named his team for Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against Ireland, but he admitted: "It was probably one of the longest selection meetings we have ever had."
Leigh Halfpenny - and not James Hook or Lee Byrne - has clinched the full-back berth, while wing Shane Williams and flanker Dan Lydiate both return to the starting line-up following injuries.
Despite Hook regaining fitness after a shoulder injury that meant he missed Wales' final two Pool D games, in-form Halfpenny has won Gatland's vote.
Hook, who has played Test rugby at full-back, centre and fly-half, has to be content with a place on the bench, but Byrne misses out completely.
Halfpenny replaced Hook at half-time during the crucial 17-10 victory over Samoa in Hamilton 18 days ago, creating a match-winning try after he launched an attack from inside his own half. He then played on the wing against Namibia and Fiji.
"This was a tough selection for us," Gatland said.
"It was probably one of the longest selection meetings we have ever had, where we went through every possible permutation available to us.
"It is a great position to be in when you are struggling to find a place for players in the squad and the starting line-up, instead of having to think who can make up the numbers, which has sometimes been the case."
Lydiate returns to the starting XV after recovering from ankle ligament damage, and Williams' thigh strain has also healed, enabling him to wear his familiar number 11 shirt.
With Lydiate reunited alongside back-row colleagues Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau, former Wales captain Ryan Jones moves to the bench.
Lydiate's determined recovery process included him getting up at two-hourly intervals during the night and icing an injury that initially threatened to destroy his World Cup dream.
Eight of Gatland's matchday 22 are aged 23 or under, which confirms the impact Wales' thrilling younger generation have made on the tournament.
But there are no places for British and Irish Lions trio Byrne, Stephen Jones and Andy Powell as Wales move towards what could be their most successful World Cup campaign since 1987.
Wales finished third in that inaugural tournament. Victory over Ireland would set up a semi-final against England and France, two teams struggling for consistency.
"This is Rugby World Cup quarter-final time, and we had some tough decisions to make with the likes of Dan, Shane and James returning from injury and the side having done so well in their recent absence," Gatland added.
"But this is the side we have gone with and, as a 22, we believe it is the team which gives us the best chance of winning this game against an Ireland team which not only topped their group, but beat Australia on the way."
After losing their opening pool game by a point against South Africa, Wales then edged out Samoa before crushing Namibia 81-7 and Fiji 66-0, scoring 21 tries during those last two matches.
Wales team to play Ireland in World Cup quarter-final in Wellington on Saturday:
L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); G North (Scarlets), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: L Burns (Newport Gwent Dragons), P James (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).
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