Rugby World Cup 2015: Wales axe British and Irish Lions trio
Warren Gatland shocks as veterans Mike Phillips, James Hook and Richard Hibbard are cut from training squad
Warren Gatland has shown he still has a ruthless streak after dropping three British and Irish Lions veterans from his Wales squad ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
After injured Cardiff Blues wing Tom James returned to his region earlier this month, the Wales head coach has dispensed with the services of eight players as he whittles a 47-man training squad down to 31 for next month’s tournament in England.
There will be disappointment from the players but its important to stress that the door is not closed.
Half-back duo James Hook and Mike Phillips knew they were likely to be on the chopping block ahead of the 31 August deadline for the final squad, made more likely after a disappointing outing last week, but few would have expected the pair to be sent packing after just one warm-up match.
Gloucester’s tough tackling hooker Richard Hibbard’s departure is the biggest surprise with his Cardiff Blues rival Kristian Dacey – who only made his debut last week – now set to rival Ospreys’ Scott Baldwin as cover for Scarlets captain Ken Owens.
With more than 200 international caps between Hibbard, Hook and Phillips, it is the second time this year that the Kiwi coach has dropped a Wales veteran after tighthead prop Adam Jones was not selected for the RBS Six Nations squad.
Whiles Jones subsequently announced his international retirement after his snub, Gatland insists that the door is not closed for any of the eight players heading back to their clubs this week as the remaining players now prepare to avenge last weekend’s thumping 35-21 defeat to Ireland when they head to Dublin.
“It’s been a difficult task reducing the squad down and deciding who will meet up with us again on Monday,” Gatland said.
“All the players involved over the past eight weeks have put a huge amount of effort in.
“The intensity and dedication from the players out in Switzerland and Qatar has been really impressive.
“That makes our job a lot harder but as we continue to move into our rugby focused phase of training its important we reduce the squad number down.
“There will be disappointment from the players but its important to stress that the door is not closed.
“We name our final Rugby World Cup squad on August 31st and a lot can happen between now and then.
“As a squad we will now meet up again on Monday to continuing preparing for Ireland away which is just over a fortnight away.”
The other players departing the Wales camp are young Ospreys loosehead prop Nicky Smith, Ospreys lock and Wales U20 captain Rory Thornton, Ospreys number eight Dan Baker, Cardiff Blues outside-half Rhys Patchell and young Newport Gwent Dragons centre Jack Dixon.
With Wales set to name a stronger side than the one fielded last week when they head to the Aviva Stadium on 22 August, the coaches also have to mull over whether to opt for an 18/13 or 17/14 forwards/backs split for the final squad.
Like a number of countries, Wales are also trying to negotiate a number of injury issues with George North, Liam Williams, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies among those still to prove their fitness.