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Warren Gatland impressed by competition for World Cup places in Wales squad

18 Aug 2023 4 minute read
Wales head coach Warren Gatland during a press conference at The Vale Resort in Hensol. Photo Adam Davy PA Images

Wales head coach Warren Gatland believes that “depth and competition” has increased in his squad as World Cup selection looms large.

Reigning world champions South Africa provide Wales’ final warm-up opposition at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

The race for World Cup places in Gatland’s 33-strong group is then due to conclude on Monday when he names those players who will head to France next month.

Only fly-half Gareth Anscombe, wing Alex Cuthbert and number eight Taulupe Faletau, who are recovering from injuries, have not featured competitively among a 48-man training squad during the August schedule.

And when punishing preparation camps in Switzerland and Turkey are added to the mix, Gatland is in a strong position to make considered choices.

“We have been so impressed with this group of players,” he said.

“And as it has turned out there was an opportunity for us to give everyone a chance to put their hand up. We feel that the time we have had together, we’ve increased the depth and competition within the squad.

“A number of teams have picked up one or two injuries, so you have got to have players who have been with you for that period, hopefully had some game time and been training with the squad.”

Gatland said a discussion would be had on how many players he takes to France who are currently nursing knocks.

Cuthbert, who was due to make his first appearance of the summer Test schedule, misses out because of calf muscle tightness, with Tom Rogers promoted from the bench to start and Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit joining the replacements.

Elsewhere, hookers Dewi Lake and Ryan Elias, lock Dafydd Jenkins and back-row forward Taine Plumtree all suffered injuries during Wales’ home and away appointments with England.

And, although British and Irish Lions Liam Williams (tight hamstring) and Dan Biggar (back) have been sidelined from facing the Springboks, their absence was described as precautionary.

Fully loaded

Asked how many injured players could be carried in the final squad, Gatland added: “Maybe one or two. That is probably the number you talk about.

“I think the important thing is when you can get back to training.

“If you look at the (World Cup) draw, you have obviously got to go fully loaded for the first game (against Fiji), then looking at Portugal with a six-day turnaround there will be changes.

“Then you’ve got eight days to Australia where you will be a strong side again, and then a 13-day turnaround where hopefully everyone gets an opportunity to recover from any bangs and bruises before you play Georgia.

“I think there is less pressure in this tournament than there has been in the past where you’ve had four-day turnarounds when that has had quite a significant impact on the squad.

“That is a discussion we will have in terms of risk and how many (players) we can carry.

“We have in the past gone to World Cups carrying players with niggles that are going to take two or three weeks to come right. That may be the case, but it is just depending on what sort of risk do you potentially take.”

Wales have beaten South Africa four times in the last five meetings on home soil, but a powerful Springboks side featuring the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Malcolm Marx, fit-again captain Siya Kolisi and his fellow flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit will be a considerable step up from England.

There are a total of 659 caps in South Africa’s line-up, compared with Wales’ 235, and Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys is relishing the challenge, particularly up front.

“I think what we have this week is a team that wants to come and scrum. There are no games,” he said.

“They want to scrummage and that is what we’ve been after. They are coming through the front door – there are no guessing games.

“We have played them a fair few times over the last four years and we’ve always enjoyed the physical confrontation that we know is going to come. It is a great test for a pretty inexperienced team.”

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