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Trio dropped from Wales squad

Published 13/08/2015

James Hook is one of three experienced players to be axed from Wales' World Cup squad
James Hook is one of three experienced players to be axed from Wales' World Cup squad

Three of Welsh rugby's biggest names - James Hook, Mike Phillips and Richard Hibbard - face uncertain international futures after seeing their World Cup hopes extinguished.

The British and Irish Lions trio, who have represented Wales 210 times between them, are among eight players to fall at the penultimate World Cup selection hurdle ahead of next month's global extravaganza.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland's decision to cut his World Cup training squad to a 38-man group also means no places for centre Jack Dixon, Hook's fellow fly-half Rhys Patchell, prop Nicky Smith, lock Rory Thornton and number eight Dan Baker.

A further seven players must be removed from the selection equation when Gatland names a final World Cup squad on August 31, but Thursday's developments have seemingly increased the possibility of the likes of New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe, his Cardiff Blues colleague Kristian Dacey and Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty all featuring.

"It has been a difficult task reducing the squad down and deciding who will meet up with us again on Monday," Gatland said.

"All the players involved over the past eight weeks have put a huge amount of effort in. The intensity and dedication from the players out in Switzerland and Qatar has been really impressive.

"That makes our job a lot harder, but as we continue to move into our rugby-focused phase of training, it's important we reduce the squad number down.

"There will be disappointment from the players, but it's important to stress that the door is not closed.

"We name our final Rugby World Cup squad on August 31, and a lot can happen between now and then.

"As a squad we will now meet up again on Monday to continue preparing for Ireland away, which is just over a fortnight away."

Hook, 30, and 32-year-old Phillips delivered ineffective displays in Wales' opening World Cup warm-up game against Ireland last Saturday and were replaced early in the second half of a 35-21 Millennium Stadium defeat.

Gloucester star Hook has been largely a fringe Wales player since the last World Cup in New Zealand four years ago, but his versatility as a fly-half, centre and full-back led many to believe he would feature in the final selection picture.

For his part, Racing Metro number nine Phillips heads through the World Cup exit door with 99 Tests to his name - 94 in Wales colours and five for the Lions. He had already dropped behind Rhys Webb, but few would have predicted earlier this summer that Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams might also both move ahead of him.

Hibbard's demise, though, is arguably the most surprising. The 31-year-old made the Gatland-coached British and Irish Lions Test team in Australia two years ago and has been a consistent Wales starter in recent seasons but he now misses out, with fellow hookers Scott Baldwin, Ken Owens and Dacey retained.

Players remaining in the training squad also include wing Eli Walker, centre Tyler Morgan and lock Dominic Day, who along with Moriarty all made their Test debuts against Ireland five days ago.

And with Baker gone it strengthens the prospect of Moriarty, whose father Paul and uncle Richard both played for Wales at the 1987 World Cup, providing an option at flanker or number eight in Gatland's final squad.

After the Ireland game in Dublin on August 29, Wales play their concluding warm-up fixture at home against Italy seven days later. Their opening World Cup fixture is a Millennium Stadium appointment with Uruguay on September 20, followed by further pool matches against England, Fiji and Australia.

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