Six Nations: Wales coach Warren Gatland dismisses fitness worries

Wales coach Warren Gatland
Coach Warren Gatland will take charge of Wales for the 50th time when they face Ireland

Wales coach Warren Gatland has said there is no risk in playing Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland in Sunday's Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Both fly-half Priestland and centre Roberts have overcome knee injuries for the Aviva Stadium clash.

Wales' third injury worry this week, flanker Dan Lydiate, will miss the trip to Dublin because of an ankle problem.

"We are happy that Rhys and Jamie have come through. Unfortunately for Dan, he is not quite ready," Gatland said.

"He might be ready next weekend [against Scotland], but it is an opportunity for Ryan Jones at six.

"I can only take it on what the medical staff say, and they say they are fit. So if they tell me they are fit and we think they are good enough to be selected, then we are going to do that.

"We had a report from the medics yesterday saying they were confident they would be right for Sunday.

"Jamie had a few sessions during our training camp in Poland and Rhys had a couple. They haven't taken a full part, but we are quite happy with the amount of rugby they have got under their belts for this game."

Cardiff Blues centre Roberts has not featured competitively since just before Christmas, while Scarlets fly-half Priestland suffered his knee trouble during a Heineken Cup game two weeks ago.

Gatland, though, has still been able to name 10 survivors from the team that claimed a comprehensive World Cup quarter-final win against Ireland in Wellington four months ago.

Jones, wing Alex Cuthbert, prop Rhys Gill and locks Bradley Davies and Ian Evans are the changes from that line-up.

Wales have only won twice on Irish soil since the tournament was expanded to six countries 12 years ago, but Gatland's men will arrive in Dublin following successive victories against Ireland.

They claimed a narrow Six Nations victory last season - albeit aided by a controversial Mike Phillips try after the wrong ball was thrown back into play by hooker Matthew Rees - then triumphed 22-10 at the World Cup.

"It was one of those days as a coaching team when you get things right," added Gatland, reflecting on events last October in Wellington.

"We prepared and planned for that game very well, and maybe Ireland - after their victory over Australia - were thinking a little further past the quarter-finals and perhaps hadn't looked at us in so much depth.

"It was the way we shut [Ronan] O'Gara's kicking down and negated the running threat of their loose forwards, which is so big to their game."

Saracens forward Gill and Blues wing Cuthbert will make their first Six Nations starts, with Gill replacing the injured Gethin Jenkins and Cuthbert filling the spot vacated by Shane Williams's retirement from Test rugby.

"Rhys is playing well for Saracens and Alex takes over from Shane Williams. They were natural selections for us," Gatland said.

"Alex has come through the sevens circuit. He is still young and inexperienced, but he is very quick and very powerful. We are hopeful of big things from him in the next season or two."

Lydiate and Jenkins [knee] apart, Wales are also without Rees [calf strain], Luke Charteris [wrist], Alun Wyn Jones [toe] and Lloyd Burns [neck].

Elsewhere, hooker Huw Bennett will win his 50th cap - only the second Wales hooker to achieve that feat after Garin Jenkins - while Gatland clocks up a half-century of games in charge of Wales since he was appointed for the 2008 Six Nations campaign.

There are no places in the matchday 22, however, for British and Irish Lions Test trio Lee Byrne, Gavin Henson and Stephen Jones.

"We have been working hard, and we feel we are approaching this match with the right attitude and with some good preparation work done," Gatland added.

"We are two sides who know each other well. Ireland will not have enjoyed losing to us in New Zealand.

"They will want to redress the balance in Dublin this weekend, but they will find us in just as determined a mood."


Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; R Priestland, M Phillips; R Gill, H Bennett, A Jones, B Davies, I Evans, R Jones, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau.

Replacements: K Owens, P James, A Powell, J Tipuric, L Williams, J Hook, S Williams.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, R O'Gara, E Reddan, D Kearney.