Wales vs England team news: Warren Gatland risks further injury woe with challenge to key players

Wales have already lost fly-half Gareth Anscombe and No 8 Taulupe Faletau to World Cup-ending injuries but the head coach has given his squad a shot at warm-up redemption

Jack de Menezes
Thursday 15 August 2019 15:42
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Warren Gatland has challenged his key players to prove they deserve a place in his starting line-up after sticking with the bulk of the squad that suffered defeat against England last Sunday for this Saturday’s return fixture, despite the risk of suffering further injuries to his players.

The Wales head coach has ruled first-choice fly-half Gareth Anscombe out for the rest of the season after damaging the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his knee last weekend, adding to the absence of No 8 Taulupe Faletau due to a broken collarbone.

The Kiwi would be forgiven for wrapping his key players in cotton wool this weekend as England come to Cardiff, but instead he has stuck with his all-out attack approach with Alun Wyn Jones leading a fully-loaded side.

"Anscombe did it when he made the break down the sideline,” explained Gatland on Thursday. “It wasn't from a tackle, he's just stepped off his right leg. You can see the jarring on the video.

"He said to the physios he felt he had jarred his knee and stayed on thinking he could run it off.

"He asked the physios if he'd done any more damage, and they said: 'No, you'd already done that and it wasn't going to get any worse'.

"Unfortunately, he's going to require surgery and it's going to keep him out for most of the season."

Gatland has been forced into three changes, with Dan Biggar coming in for the injured Anscombe as opposed to one of Jarrod Evans or Rhys Patchell, who appear to be in a straight shootout now to join Biggar in the final squad.

Adam Beard is replaced in the second-row by Jake Ball after suffering a blow to the wrist, while Justin Tipuric misses out having rolled his ankle last weekend. In his place at openside flanker comes James Davies, who will join brother Jonathan in the starting line-up to become the first siblings to play for Wales since Nicky and Jamie Robinson in 2006. But Gatland decided against making further changes to give the rest of the squad a chance to stake their claim or risk losing their place in his plans to other players.

"It's easy enough to make a lot of changes, but some of the players would have been disappointed with last weekend, and particularly that first 20 minutes," Gatland said.

"For us, it's about a chance to redeem ourselves and give those players another hit-out and go out there and perform, and put some pressure on them to perform as well.

"There is a lot of pressure on those guys on the weekend, because if some of them don't front and don't perform, they are opening the door for someone else.

Gareth Anscombe suffered meniscus and ACL damage to end his World Cup hopes

"If you win last week and you win this weekend, you pretty much would have sealed, potentially, a starting spot for the first game or first couple of games in the World Cup.

"That's why we wanted to make sure that players are aware and that they are under pressure."

England boss Eddie Jones has similar injury concerns, though at this stage none of the 31 players that he named in his final World Cup squad on Monday have been ruled out of the tournament. However, Jones has been forced to name two hookers on the bench, with Jamie George joined by Saracens teammate Jack Singleton who will cover the back-row, after three flankers were ruled out of selection this weekend.

Sam Underhill remains unavailable after injuring his toe in training last week, while Tom Curry is sidelined by a shoulder injury that he suffered in the 33-19 victory over Wales, and Mark Wilson joined that list after taking a blow to the ribs in training this week.

Gatland has stuck with a similar squad for Wales's second match against England

But like Gatland, Jones has decided to give the bulk of last weekend’s squad another run-out to hand Willi Heinz and Lewis Ludlam their second England caps, though three changes to the squad allows Ruaridh McConnochie to replace Anthony Watson on the wing for his international debut.

Maro Itoje comes into the second-row to replace Charlie Ewels for his first appearances of the warm-up series, while Courtney Lawes will start at blindside flanker with Ludlam shifting to the No 7 shirt. George meanwhile is joined on the bench by Owen Farrell, meaning George Ford will once again campatain the side from fly-half.

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