Roberts fast-tracked as Wales scrum-half

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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland declared recently that there would no winners in the interminable club versus country wrangle plaguing Wales, but the Grand Slam-winning coach could not have been more wrong. Martin Roberts is set to collect the young rugby player's version of the jackpot against Australia at the end of month.

All the uncapped scrum-half needs to happen is: a) not to suffer a personal calamity against Canada at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night; and b) for Premier Rugby Limited not to have a highly uncharacteristic change of heart and sanction the release of Sale's Dwayne Peel and Gloucester's Gareth Cooper for Wales' final match of the series. That is a double Gatland clearly fancies.

Yesterday he admitted that he is planning on being without his two first-choice No 9s, who can be called back by their clubs as the Wallabies Test falls outside the official autumn international window. "I thought it would be pretty unfair to throw the young kid in against Australia without him having a run first," he explained.

Roberts, a 22-year-old who has only recently broken into the Scarlets first team since joining from the Ospreys in the close season, is one of 10 changes. The teenager Leigh Halfpenny keeps his place on the wing but Andy Powell, the other startling debutant on the weekend, was named among the replacements. "We are saving Andy for the All Blacks," said Gatland. Whether Gavin Henson will be available for that showdown a week on Saturday is very much in doubt. The centre is to see a specialist this week about the Achilles injury that forced his late withdrawal last Friday.

Wales (v Canada, 7.30 Friday, Cardiff): M Stoddart (Scarlets); L Halfpenny (Blues), T Shanklin (Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), M Jones (Scarlets); J Hook (Ospreys), M Roberts (Scarlets); J Yapp (Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), R Thomas (Dragons), I Gough (Ospreys), L Charteris (Dragons), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), R Sowden-Taylor (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets), E Roberts (Sale), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys), A Powell (Blues), D Peel (Sale), D Biggar (Ospreys), J Roberts (Blues).

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