Wales bank on Halfpenny and sling Hook for Ireland battle

Warren Gatland still managed to spring a surprise for such a familiar fixture with the non-inclusion of James Hook in the Welsh starting line-up for their World Cup quarter-final.

Just three weeks ago it was preposterous even to entertain the idea that the most versatile player in Test rugby would not be worth a starting role yet Hook will be left on the bench by Wales for their biggest game in 24 years.

The Lion proved his fitness after recovering from a shoulder injury that has kept him out for the past two weeks but must settle for a place among the replacements after coach Gatland opted for Leigh Halfpenny at full-back against Ireland.

Such is the buoyancy within the Wales camp, boosted by the return of Hook, Dan Lydiate and Shane Williams, that it is the players not selected that are of greater significance.

It would have been tough on Halfpenny to miss out given his form so the return of Williams has prompted a shift for the young Cardiff wing to full-back, where Hook was expected to return, with Lee Byrne dropped altogether.

There is no room either for the 102-cap top points-scorer Stephen Jones after Rhys Priestland proved he has the temperament to handle the kicking duties with a perfect six kicks last week.

Gatland said: "This was one of the longest selection meetings we've ever had, where we went through every possible permutation available. It's a great position to be in when you're struggling to find a place for players, instead of having to think who can make up the numbers. That has sometimes been the case."

It is another blow in a frustrating campaign for Hook, who saw his penalty-kick controversially ruled wide against South Africa before injury against Samoa.

Despite enjoying the luxury of selecting from a full squad for the first time since arriving in New Zealand, Gatland has kept faith with those in form to steer Wales to their first semi-final since 1987.

Gatland said: "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. But this is the side we believe gives us the best chance of winning against an Ireland team which topped their group and beat the Wallabies on the way."

Halfpenny and prop Gethin Jenkins are the only changes to the team edged out 17-16 by South Africa on the opening weekend, though there will be far greater depth to call upon from the sidelines at Wellington this weekend.

Ireland erred on the side of caution, with Ronan O'Gara handed his 117th cap ahead of Jonathan Sexton, though coach Declan Kidney went to great length to avoid pinpointing a reason for the selection.

He said: "It wasn't Ronan's greater experience. Jonathan has been in two Heineken Cup finals, so that's cup experience. It would be wrong of me to try to bracket it into anything, other than it's one of these genuine, tight calls."

Ireland delayed the seemingly inevitable decision of ruling out hooker Rory Best, with Sean Cronin and Damien Varley waiting for the nod.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'