Wales set to summon World Cup replacements

Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb saw their World Cup dreams halted against Italy

Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland has been hit with a pre-tournament injury crisis. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland has been hit with a pre-tournament injury crisis. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

 

Wales boss Warren Gatland looks set to summon World Cup replacements this week after being hit by a savage double blow just a fortnight before his team’s opening game.

British and Irish Lions pair James Hook and Mike Phillips — together with New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe — could be in the frame for possible call-ups after Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb saw their World Cup dreams become the stuff of nightmares.

Both players were carried off during Wales’ final World Cup warm-up fixture against Italy on Saturday, with full-back Halfpenny suffering a knee injury and hospitalised scrum-half Webb suspected ankle ligament damage.

Gatland is awaiting updated medical bulletins following scans, but it does not look good for either player.

They are integral parts of Gatland’s World Cup plans. Halfpenny’s goal-kicking prowess was underlined by him passing 500 points for Wales during the Italy encounter, while Webb has established himself as clear first-choice number nine during the past 12 months.

Gloucester back Hook and Racing 92 scrum-half Phillips were both cut from Gatland’s training squad last month, but given their combined experience of more than 170 Wales caps — and another potential Halfpenny deputy Anscombe currently recovering from an ankle problem — they could now find themselves in pole position.

Hook and Anscombe also offer goal-kicking expertise, although that key role will undoubtedly pass to outhalf Dan Biggar in the event of Halfpenny being sidelined.

And in terms of Gatland’s World Cup starting line-up, Liam Williams, who is poised to take a full part in training this week after being laid low by a foot injury, would be favourite to replace Halfpenny, with Gareth Davies possibly taking over from Webb.

Wales’ first Pool A fixture is against Uruguay on September 20th.

“It’s not great, is it?” said Gatland, speaking after the 23-19 victory over Italy as he pondered further injury gloom during a World Cup build-up that has already seen him lose Lions centre Jonathan Davies and prop Rhodri Jones.

“You have got to feel for them if they are ruled out. It would be a massive blow for them and disappointing for us.

“But you’ve got to put that behind you and work with the players you’ve got and build them and have the confidence going into the next game.

“It’s one of those things. Players want to play, and unfortunately sometimes they pick up injuries.

“Potentially in the next 24-48 hours, when we get the (scan) results back, we may have to sit down and start thinking about replacements, but there’s nothing concrete in our heads.

“We will see what the results are, and talk about that as coaches and sit down with the medics and talk about the whole squad and potentially what our options are.”

The sight of Halfpenny and Webb leaving the Millennium Stadium pitch on medical carts inevitably overshadowed what should have been a slick final Wales work-out before tackling a World Cup group that also includes England and Australia.

But they never got going against a cussed Italian outfit, who outscored their hosts two to one on tries, although the Azzurri were also hit by injuries that could threaten the World Cup hopes of centres Luca Morisi and Gonzalo Garcia.

“We made a lot of mistakes. It was a frustrating game,” Gatland added. “We went on with the intention of wanting to play rugby, but it was just so stop-start the whole game.

“We went from 43 minutes of ball-in-play last week (against Ireland) to 26 minutes this week. We had the same sort of game against them (Italy) in the 2014 Six Nations.

“We are very analytical of ourselves and very critical of our own performances, and the players are as well. The injuries are disappointing, obviously, and the performance as well. But you take that in sport and you move on pretty quickly.”

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