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Wales coach Warren Gatland defends his decision to play Leigh Halfpenny

Published 08/09/2015

Rhys Webb was injured during Wales' 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Italy
Rhys Webb was injured during Wales' 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Italy

Warren Gatland has defended his decision to play Leigh Halfpenny in Wales' final World Cup warm-up game against Italy.

British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny suffered a serious knee injury in the closing minutes of Wales' 23-19 victory in Cardiff on Saturday and was ruled out of the World Cup on Monday.

Wales legend Shane Williams questioned Gatland's decision to play Halfpenny given the goal-kicker's importance to the national team, saying the 26-year-old should have been wrapped up in cotton wool ahead of the tournament.

But Wales head coach Gatland, speaking at a press conference where it was revealed the Millennium Stadium would be renamed Principality Stadium, said the strapping on Halfpenny's knee was not related to the separate injury which was to rule him out of the World Cup.

"There was more than one player out there with strapping," said Gatland, who on Tuesday also lost his first-choice scrum-half Rhys Webb for the tournament with a foot injury.

"Half-a-dozen players or probably more than that get strapped up before every game.

"Leigh had that strapping on before the game in Dublin. It's something he'd had there for the last three weeks and used it when he was kicking.

"He said he didn't really need the strapping, but because he'd been using it for the last two or three weeks, he put it on.

"He had just been a little bit tight in the back of his knee about three weeks ago.

"It was nothing to do with the injury that he picked up on the weekend. And it wasn't heavy strapping, it was very light strapping. I checked that out with the physios.

"I know there has been some criticism about protecting players and you always question yourself about that.

"It's just trying to get the balance right between players having enough rugby and keeping players fresh.

"If they weren't involved in the first group game against Uruguay and then played against England, well, that's four weeks between the two matches.

"For some of those players that's a little bit long and they want to play a bit more."

Gatland has called veteran scrum-half Mike Phillips and Ospreys wing Eli Walker into the squad to cover the absences of Halfpenny and Webb but he expressed disappointment at losing two key players on the eve of the tournament.

"You've got to feel for them," Gatland said.

"They worked so hard and to get injured in the last warm-up game and to be ruled out of the World Cup is devastating for the two lads.

"But they've both had injuries in the past and come back from them and hopefully they are not going to be out of the game for too long.

"Probably both of them are going to need operations and hopefully those are successful and they can be back as early as possible.

"You are going to pick up injuries and you feel for the players that got injured.

" The players are going to be disappointed for both Leigh and Rhys, but professional sport is about accepting those disappointments and moving on and preparing for the tournament."

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