Shane Williams has questioned whether Wales coach Warren Gatland really needed to play Leigh Halfpenny in a warm-up match against Italy after the fullback suffered an injury that could rule him out of the 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 against 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.
– Lynagh sympathy –
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.” – Agence France-Presse