RWC 2015: Warren Gatland plays safe against Uruguayans

Wales vs Uruguay, 2.30pm, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

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The Independent Online

Signs on overhead gantries advise motorists heading along the M4 into Wales to “plan ahead” for the next few weeks, as the impact of World Cup traffic on the already crowded motorway is likely to be huge.

Warren Gatland has done just that. The Welsh coach did not need to say much about the pivotal Pool A game between England and Wales at Twickenham next Saturday – his team for this afternoon’s opening match, against Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium, said it all.

Due respect was paid to the South Americans, but Gatland’s team selection was an exercise in caution. Gwyn Jones, the former Wales captain who is now a commentator, believes that Gatland could have done worse than field something close to his best XV against Uruguay, but only perhaps four of that group step out today for a match that is expected to provide the home side with a mountain of points.

Gatland denied that places against England were up for grabs. Rhys Priestland, making a rare start at fly-half today, smiled briefly and said the team to play England was not “rocket science”. Yet Priestland himself is a good example of a man with a point to prove. Four years ago in New Zealand he was in the purplest patch of his career, but since then injuries and the critics have not been kind.

Whenever he is given any chance to lead the attack and kick his goals, he has to take it. Wales need him to take it. The loss of Leigh Halfpenny with what may be a season-ending knee injury has left them with limited goal-kicking resources.

Dan Biggar, of course, is a proven kicker, as is Priestland, but Matthew Morgan is a newcomer to international rugby, and while Liam Williams he may have practising more in front of goal, he has enough on his plate returning at full-back after a foot injury.

Similarly, it is a big day out for Gareth Davies. The 25-year-old Scarlets scrum-half has made only three international appearances and Uruguay represents his first start, but who can claim possession of the No 9, with Rhys Webb again injured? Lloyd Williams is on the bench today, but lurking in the wings is the hugely experienced Mike Phillips, recalled when Webb badly damaged his ankle against Italy two weeks ago.

Gatland may have omitted Phillips from his initial World Cup squad, but the temptation to play him at Twickenham will be strong. Wales watched England beat Fiji last night and know how vital that late-try bonus point could be.

“The world is in union against England,” reads a message board set up by a bookmaker in Cardiff’s St Mary Street – but the world, along with Wales, has to to sup in England’s parlour.