The cloud hanging over the Welsh camp since the weekend has been temporarily lifted with the news that Alun Wyn Jones, Samson Lee and Liam Williams have all been cleared for their opening World Cup game against Uruguay.
The medical bulletins in Wales have made for unpleasant reading this week with Leigh Halfpenny and then Rhys Webb ruled out of the competition with injury.
But Wales have received a timely fillip with the announcement the previously injured trio of Jones, Lee and Williams were set to play a role in their pool opener a week on Sunday as a test run for the key England game six days later.
Lee’s return to the side is perhaps the most impressive, the influential prop given no more than a 50-50 chance of playing any part in the World Cup at all after rupturing his Achilles tendon during the Six Nations.
For Williams, it also marks an end to a lengthy lay-off, his first match since foot surgery in June, while Jones is back after suffering a knee injury in the first World Cup warm-up match against Ireland in Cardiff.
Assistant coach Rob Howley said: “Alun Wyn Jones is fine, Samson Lee and Liam Williams have played a full part in training, and Samson has played a full part in scrummaging.
“I think it’s fair to say Liam and Samson would have to play against Uruguay to be involved against England and they are likely starters against Uruguay. Time on the field is vital after so long.”
With Jonathan Davies also out of the World Cup, Wales are missing three of their key players and Howley admitted it was important that Wales do not suffer any further injuries particularly to the returning Jones, who he described as “a talisman of that Welsh pack”.
Wales will understandably not pick a full-strength side for their opening side against their weakest opponents in Pool A, instead picking what Howley called “a mix-and-match side” as against Italy in their final warm-up match.
“It’s important we give players a game but it’s also important after the Italian game and what happened to Leigh and Rhys that we look after the key players,” he said.
Their new-look squad has seen fly-half Dan Biggar thrust into the role of chief goal-kicker without Halfpenny, and Mike Phillips and Eli Walker, overlooked for the initial squad, brought in to replace Webb and Halfpenny.
Howley said he had no doubt that Biggar could take over the role of points machine with Liam Williams adding a fresh attacking threat instead of Halfpenny, describing Williams as “out of the box who can do different things”.
Despite previously being discarded from the World Cup reckoning, Wales’ former scrum-half turned coach hinted that Phillips might even force his way into the starting line-up for the tournament despite effectively being the fourth-choice No.9 behind Webb, Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams.
“I spoke to Mike on several occasions over the last couple of days and the way he dealt with not being selected was a huge plus for us,” he said.
“In terms of the maturity and the way he accepted that decision and wanted the best for Rhys, Lloyd and Gareth, for him to come back in now with that experience is great. He is a street fighter, the physical attributes of his game are there for everyone to see.
“I think we are fortunate from a national perspective to call on someone of Mike’s ability and physicality. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks you will be able to see some stronger points of his game.”Reuse content