Liam Williams and Samson Lee set to give Wales a double fitness boost
Liam Williams and Samson Lee are set to give Wales a welcome double boost by being available for the World Cup opener against Uruguay on Sunday week.
Wales were left reeling following last weekend's final tournament warm-up appointment with Italy when full-back Leigh Halfpenny (knee) and scrum-half Rhys Webb (foot) both suffered serious injuries and were subsequently ruled out of World Cup contention.
But the medical bulletin is a great deal brighter surrounding back-three man Williams and scrummaging powerhouse Lee, who took no part during Wales' three World Cup preparation matches while they continued their respective recoveries from foot and Achilles problems.
"Samson and Liam have taken a full part in training," Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said. "Samson has taken a full part in scrummaging as well, and he has continued to do that.
"Time on the rugby field is pretty important to any professional player, and the length of time both those players have been out, you can expect them to be likely starting against Uruguay in that first game."
Howley also reported that lock Alun-Wyn Jones was "fine" after he tweaked a knee during the victory over RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland in Dublin 12 days ago.
Webb's World Cup squad replacement Mike Phillips and Ospreys wing Eli Walker, called up earlier this week instead of Halfpenny, are now fully involved at Wales' base in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Phillips, who has won 94 caps and played in five Tests for the British and Irish Lions, was surprisingly cut by head coach Warren Gatland from Wales' World Cup training squad last month.
Gatland selected Webb, Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams as his scrum-halves for the tournament, and Howley has showered praise on 33-year-old Phillips for the impressive way he reacted to his omission.
"The way he dealt with not being selected, first and foremost, was a huge plus and a positive for us," Howley said.
"Mike accepted that decision and wanted the best for Rhys, Lloyd and Gareth. He has that experience, he is a street-fighter, and the physical attributes of his game are there for everyone to see.
"I think we are fortunate from a national perspective to call on someone of Mike's ability and physicality.
"Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, you will be able to see some of the stronger points of his game."
With Halfpenny absent from World Cup duty - he has amassed 508 points in 62 Wales Tests - principal goalkicking duties will now pass to fly-half Dan Biggar, and Howley has no doubt about Biggar's ability to step up in Test rugby's pressure-cooker environment.
"Dan has taken over the duties several times from Leigh in the past, notably in the Wales-England game in 2013, and he kicked last Saturday as well," Howley added. "He is a quality kicker.
"The challenge for Dan - and he's matched this challenge in the regional game - is to kick and play, to be a kicker and a playmaker at international level. I have no doubt he has the qualities.
"There may be a 10-metre difference (in goalkicking range between Halfpenny and Biggar) which changes the landscape a bit, because instead of kicking for goal, we will be kicking for the corner.
"In terms of scoring tries, that will give us the ability to increase the pressure in the opposition 22.
"Tier-one games are about dominating the white zone, and it is probably the case that with Leigh and his kicking prowess we haven't gone into those zones too often because we've been going for goal and building a lead from 50-55 metres, as you do in the international game.
"His kicking is phenomenal - I don't need to say that. He will definitely be missed."