Wales down to the bare bones with Reed the last lock standing
Howley may name Ospreys youngsters King and Peers in today's squad after crippling injury list all but wipes out his second row
Monday 14 January 2013
Lou Reed will be on Rob Howley's playlist when he announces his squad tomorrow for the opening match of Wales's defence of their Six Nations crown but it will be a painfully imperfect one chosen by the interim coach with the focus likely to be on those absent from the fixture against Ireland two weeks on Saturday.
Reed, the 6ft 6in Cardiff Blue, is the only lock still standing from Wales's disastrous autumn campaign as Howley contemplates having to mind more gaps than London Underground. It is in the second row in particular that Howley has some creative thinking to do as another gruelling weekend added Ryan Jones, once captain of Wales, to a crippling injury list.
Jones dislocated a thumb against Leicester and joins Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies and Ian Evans on the sidelines. All but the latter have no chance of playing against Ireland and it leaves Howley having to decide whether to hurl the untested young Ospreys James King and Lloyd Peers in at the deep end alongside Reed, who only made his first start against Australia in December (because of injury of course), or make a temporary return to the grizzled dependability of Ian Gough, playing well for the Ospreys this season, three years after the 36-year-old won the last of his 64 caps. Aaron Shingler, another possible stopgap option, is also a significant injury doubt.
Second row is the height of Howley's problems as Wales limp towards the start of a campaign that will begin in stark contrast to a year ago when Warren Gatland's side followed their uplifting World Cup performance by beating Ireland in Dublin in their opening Six Nations match to take a first step towards a third Grand Slam in eight years.
With Gatland absent, Howley has overseen seven straight defeats since France were beaten to claim the Slam, all the time accompanied by an expanding injury list. He also has issues over who will wear the No 2 and No 10 shirts against Ireland. Optimism is in almost as short supply as locks, and that is before even considering the domestic issues bedevilling the Welsh game.
King and Peers, both uncapped, have impressed for the Ospreys this season with the 22-year-old King's versatility – he can also play in the back row – likely to earn him a place in Howley's squad. Evans should be fit to return at some point in the Six Nations. It had been hoped that he may be ready for Ireland but Steve Tandy, Ospreys head coach, has sought to dampen any such expectations. He said: "Ian probably won't come back next week against Treviso [in the Heineken Cup]. I know Wales are decimated, but we will just have to review his situation as we go along."
Another of Tandy's domestic charges, Richard Hibbard, is also unlikely to face Ireland. The hooker is regarded as the form player at No 2 but a long-term shoulder problem that kept him out of the autumn defeats against New Zealand and Australia arose once again on Sunday when he was taken off against Leicester. It leaves the Scarlets pair of Matthew Rees and Ken Owens to contest the shirt.
"We have been patching [Hibbard] up since he hurt the same shoulder playing for Wales against Samoa in November, if I am honest," said Tandy. "The way he goes about his business and turns up every week is just a ridiculous effort from the boy."
With Rhys Priestland missing the entire tournament, Dan Biggar, who himself filled a place on the injury list during the autumn series, has been earmarked as his replacement at 10. Biggar has yet to play in the Six Nations but with James Hook still to make his return from a chest injury – he hopes do to so for Perpignan in the Amlin Cup this weekend – the 23-year-old seems set to start against Ireland.
Dan Lydiate, outstanding in last year's Six Nations, is another key name who will be absent from Howley's list today although he should be ready to play later in the tournament. Howley can include Jamie Roberts, who is fit again after an injury-plagued season, and Adam Jones, who was sorely missed in the front row in the autumn. George North is expected to have recovered from the neck injury he suffered against Ulster on Friday.
Walking wounded: Howley's injury list
Alun Wyn Jones, >Shoulder injury, out until March
Luke Charteris, Out for season, knee ligament
Bradley Davies, Having ankle operation this week
Ian Evans, Close to return after knee injury
Ryan Jones, Dislocated thumb against Leicester on Sunday
Richard Hibbard, Shoulder injury, against Leicester
Aaron Jarvis, Out for season, knee ligament
Huw Bennett, Achilles surgery in summer
Dan Lydiate, Broke ankle in September – hopeful of making part of Six Nations
Aaron Shingler, Close to return after groin injury
Rhys Priestland, Out for the season, Achilles tendon
Ashley Beck, Ankle ligament, will miss two games
James Hook, Chest injury, two more weeks out
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