Alun Wyn Jones facing six weeks out with foot problem
Wales star Alun Wyn Jones could be sidelined for six weeks due to a foot problem that head coach Warren Gatland revealed has left him "operating at around 80 per cent."
Jones will miss Saturday's RBS 6 Nations finale against Italy in Cardiff, an occasion that would have been his 99th cap and potentially seen him captaining Wales instead of Sam Warburton, who is sidelined while he recovers from concussion.
Luke Charteris takes over in the second row, with Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric replacing Warburton, while two other changes from last Saturday's Six Nations title-ending loss to England see wing Hallam Amos coming in for Alex Cuthbert and scrum-half Rhys Webb preferred to Gareth Davies.
"He (Jones) has been operating at around 80 per cent and dug in for the last few weeks," Gatland said.
"Talking to the medics, they think he needs six weeks' rest. He could have dug in and got through, but it's just making sure we manage him over the next few weeks and work closely with the Ospreys (Jones' regional team) and bring him back towards the end of the season and look at some conditioning.
"We have made a decision that he needs a few weeks' rest to try and take some pressure off that foot that has been holding him back.
"He has been digging in and giving us what he's got, but he knows himself that he is not quite where he has been in the past and just needs that break to hopefully recover and get himself fit and ready for the (New Zealand) tour in the summer.
"If we can get him in to do some work in the altitude chamber and running in the gravity suit and hopefully ease some of the pressure and tension that's on that foot, then hopefully we get a fresh and fit Alun Wyn for New Zealand.
"It really came to a head after Saturday. He had been getting through the games and doing enough during the week and being managed by the medical team, but he went to the medical team on Saturday night and said he was struggling with his foot.
"We are trying to be responsible as well. It would be pretty unfair on the Ospreys if we turned around and played him this week and said to them 'now we want you to give him a rest as well'.
"We are trying to work with them, saying we have taken a decision and hopefully we can work together and give him some time off to recover."
Cuthbert, meanwhile, also faces a lay-off due to injury, while Warburton has been following required return to play protocols after the England game..
Gatland added: "With Sam, he came in with some symptoms. We could have gone through the rest of the week and he could have been available, but it's not worth taking the risk.
"There is a lot of stuff about welfare and looking after players.
"We made the decision that we weren't going to consider him, and it's a great chance for Justin and a really good chance for Ross Moriarty on the bench, too, and hopefully having some impact."
Ospreys flanker Dan Lydiate will captain Wales for the first time in a Test match this weekend.
Exeter prop Tomas Francis, meanwhile, who had been named among the Wales substitutes, is set to be replaced by Ospreys tighthead Aaron Jarvis.
Francis was cited for allegedly making contact with the eye or eye area of England prop Dan Cole at Twickenham, and he received an eight-week ban after appearing before an independent Six Nations disciplinary committee on Tuesday.
Italy will arrive in Cardiff already assured of this season's Six Nations wooden spoon following four successive defeats that saw them concede 157 points and 20 tries, which has inevitably led to the resurrection of a general promotion and relegation debate between the Six Nations and Europe's leading tier two teams.
Asked about that scenario, Gatland said: "A lot of questions have been asked about Italy. I think they thoroughly deserve to be in the Six Nations. They have contributed to it enormously and had some great wins over the years.
"They have beaten Wales in the past, had a great win against France, beaten Scotland on a few occasions. They deserve their spot in there.
"For the development of the game in Europe, if there is a second tier and that continues to improve, then maybe there is an opportunity for the top team of that tier to play the bottom team of the Six Nations in a play-off game.
"It shouldn't just be a straight one up, one down. I think the team coming up has definitely got to be better than the team they are replacing. It's something that is potentially there for the future."