Gatland reveals Wales team to face England
Warren Gatland was finally able to piece together his new look Wales side to take on England at Twickenham on Saturday at a little after 1pm on Wednesday afternoon.
The Kiwi is under a touch more strain going into these championships than at any other point during his two-year tenure and will have been mightily relieved that his standout full-back, Lee Byrne, last night won his appeal against a two week ban.
Byrne, who was sentenced following the now infamous 16th man incident against Leicester 10 days earlier, will take his place in the 15 jersey with James Hook, the man primed to deputise for him moving into the centre to join Jamie Roberts.
Roberts will wear the no.12 shirt in which he excelled for the Lions last summer with the versatile Hook playing at outside centre. It is a bold move from Gatland who hopes Wales will benefit from a second creative presence in a midfield which looked a touch one dimensional during the Autumn internationals.
Hook, who has been edged out of his preferred no.10 position at both club and international level, also gives Wales a third genuine kicking option, an area the coach has outlined as needing significant improvement. And attack coach Rob Howley believes that Wales “may have found his position,” after years of the Ospreys star being shunted across the back-line.
Elsewhere in the backs the troublesome scrum-half position was awarded to Gareth Cooper with his Blues teammate Tom James replacing Leigh Halfpenny on the right-wing. Another Blues no.9 Richie Rees, is poised to make his debut from the bench.
Up front there was a blow for Wales as Lions hooker Matthew Rees is forced to miss out. The Scarlets player was one of the few who opted to get game time at the weekend, taking part in an Anglo-Welsh cup clash with Wasps and picking up a groin injury during his side’s 18-13 victory.
The blow is particularly significant as many expected Wales’ all-Lions front row, also featuring props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, to cause England problems in the scrum. Rees is replaced by Graeth Williams, the 31-year-old Blues hooker who has just eight caps to his name with Huw Bennett on the bench.
The first scrum on Saturday will still attract a great deal of attention regardless of Rees’ absence however with Wales in the unusual position of packing down a potentially more fearsome tight five.