Williams questions Gatland’s selection policy

Former Wales winger Shane Williams has questioned whether Wales coach Warren
Gatland should have played fullback Leigh Halfpenny in a warm-up match against

Halfpenny was stretchered off the field at the Millennium Stadium with an injury
that could rule him out of the Rugby World Cup.

Toulon star Halfpenny, one of the outstanding goal-kickers of his generation,
suffered a suspected knee ligament injury in a hard-fought 23-19 warm-up win
over the Azzurri at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

He was due to learn the results of the scan on a Monday but there are many
within Wales who are already fearing the worst with in-form scrum-half Rhys
Webb injured as well against the Italians.

Former Wales wing Williams even said the country was “in mourning”
over the blows taken by both backs.

“It’s just horrendous for Wales,” said Williams at the launch of
broadcaster ITV’s World Cup coverage on Monday.

“Rhys Webb has been the form player for Wales over the last two seasons.
To lose Halfpenny as well, it’s just a massive blow for Wales and it couldn’t
have come at a worse time.”

“You kind of thought ‘do we need this guy on the field? Let’s wrap him
up in cotton wool and roll him out when we really need him’.

“It is a massive blow and Wales is in mourning already. Especially with
Halfpenny, he was strapped up on his leg anyway.

“Then you have players like Matthew Morgan just been included in the squad,
and a lot was mentioned about him maybe getting a run at full-back. And of course
you have Liam Williams who is just coming back from injury and isn’t quite there.

“So you could see why they had to go with Halfpenny or Morgan, but Leigh’s
such an important player for Wales and maybe he didn’t need the game-time as
much as Matthew Morgan or even Hallam Amos maybe.”

Gatland’s men open their Pool A campaign agaqinst Uruguay in Cardiff a week
on Sunday, with huge doubts over whether Halfpenny and Webb will now take any
part in the tournament.

Wales’ group was already tough enough, with the inclusion of both main tournament
hosts England and two-time champions Australia meaning at least one of rugby’s
major nations won’t qualify for the quarter-finals as only the top two teams
go through to the last eight.

With points difference possibly the deciding factor in quarter-final qualification,
having a goal-kicker of Halfpenny’s proven class was a massive advantage —
with his absence an equally huge setback.

Former Australia fly-half Michael Lynagh, a World Cup-winner in 1991 and one
of the best goal-kickers of his time, was in no doubt that Halfpenny’s absence
would be a boost to the Wallabies.

“It does help Australia,” said Lynagh. “But I’m just terribly
upset for the players involved.

“You really don’t want to see anyone miss a World Cup through injury,
especially not picking up problems at this late stage.

“Leigh Halfpenny, in goal-kicking terms, he’s the best around.”

Bookies currently have Wales at 20/1 to win the Rugby World Cup.

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