Rugby World Cup: Costly Wales win poses questions for Gatland

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland has been Wales coach since the start of the 2008 Six Nations championship
Rugby World Cup
Hosts: England and Wales Dates: 18 September-31 October
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and sports extra, BBC Radio Wales and in Welsh on BBC Radio Cymru, plus live text commentary on every match on the BBC Sport website.

Wales coach Warren Gatland was left picking over the bones of a disastrous final World Cup warm-up game against Italy that left two of his leading players needing hospital scans.

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Wales v Italy: George North goes over in Wales win

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny and scrum-half Rhys Webb both left the field on stretchers after suffering leg injuries in a stuttering 23-19 win.

Gatland, whose team face hosts England and Australia in Pool A of the World Cup within the next month, also watched a disjointed performance by Wales.

But the headlines and the furrowed brows will be as a result of the injuries as much as the performance.

How could Wales cover Halfpenny?

In the post-match media conference Gatland refused to be drawn on the extent of the injuries, but hinted at a possible outcome if Halfpenny is ruled out.

"Hopefully Liam Williams is taking a full part in training next week," he said.

Liam Williams in action against Australia with Wales team-mates Leigh Halfpenny (left foreground) and Taulupe Faletau in support
Liam Williams filled in for Leigh Halfpenny (in scrum cap) during Wales' tour of South Africa in 2014

Scarlets full-back Williams has been included in Wales' World Cup squad in spite of not having played since having foot surgery at the end of last season.

Williams is a counter-attacking runner and tenacious in defence, and with Dan Biggar available to take the kicks at goal it could cover for Toulon full-back Halfpenny.

But with Wales facing England and Australia, Williams's lack of game time would make his selection as first choice a gamble.

It could open the door for Cardiff Blues back Gareth Anscombe's return to the squad if his leg injury has healed enough.

Door open for Mike Phillips?

The loss of Webb could mean a return for Racing 92's Mike Phillips if Gatland decides to bring in another number nine.

Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams are the other scrum-halves already in the squad.

However, Scarlet Davies' appearance in place of Webb was only his fourth cap and Williams has played 18 times. Phillips - dropped from the squad in early August - has played in 100 Tests including those for the British and Irish Lions.

Mike Phillips and Sam Warburton
Mike Phillips (left) was a key member of Wales' team when they reached the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup under Sam Warburton's captaincy.

Captain Sam Warburton said: "We hope Rhys is okay, but we've probably got the best replacement you could find in Mike Phillips, who's just been released from the squad.

"So if he's needed, to call upon a two-time British Lion, that's not bad at all. It brings a massive amount to the group, so we've got plenty of strength in depth to cover for those players."

However, Gatland emphasised no replacements are being called up just yet.

The coach added: "If you look at the second Test against South Africa last year both those players [Webb and Halfpenny] were not involved in that game."

"Potentially in the next 24 to 48 hours when we get the [medical scan] results back we may have to sit down and start thinking about replacements, but until then there's nothing concrete in our heads.

"We haven't even spoken about it."

The game was not very good either

Aside from the injuries, Wales were a shadow of the team which beat Ireland 16-10 in Dublin seven days earlier or crushed Italy 61-20 in Rome in March.

On a day when England impressed as they saw off a spirited Ireland comeback to win 21-13 in Twickenham, Wales were equally unimpressive.

Wales' World Cup pool games
Sunday, 20 Sept, 14:30 BST: Wales v Uruguay, Millennium Stadium
Saturday, 26 Sept, 20:00 BST: England v Wales, Twickenham Stadium
Thursday, 1 Oct, 16:45 BST: Wales v Fiji, Millennium Stadium
Saturday, 10 Oct, 16:45 BST: Wales v Australia, Twickenham Stadium

The management had hoped to play a fast game, spurning penalties and keeping the ball in play for as long as possible.

Ultimately, with injuries disrupting the flow and mistakes compounding the lack of continuity, Wales were forced to change tactics.

"It was such a stop-start game we've gone from 43 minutes ball-in-play time last week to 26 minutes this week," Gatland said.

"We had the same sort of game against them in 2014 in the Six Nations with the same referee [George Clancy] as well.

"In the end we've decided the most important thing was to get out of Dodge and win the game."

Accentuate the positive

Wales go into the World Cup opener against Uruguay on 20 September on the back of two wins, an important factor according to Warburton.

Gatland, too, said the importance of the victory, however frustrating in terms of its nature, was of key importance.

Taulupe Faletau

"We're not happy and the players have to have a look at their own performances," he added.

"When Toby Faletau drops two kicks-offs - I've never seen him drop two - that sort of puts you under a bit of pressure and it's very unlike him, so you put it on the back burner and look ahead.

"I think Toby will want to forget about that game pretty quickly.

"The message to the players is not to read any newspapers tomorrow.

"We're good at putting those things behind us and not letting any negativity get to us.

"In the past we've been good at focusing what's in front of us. And that's what we'll do now."

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