Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Welsh wait on Williams

Wales wing wizard Shane Williams has only a "50-50" chance of being fit to weave his magic against England tomorrow.

That will be music to the ears of England boss Martin Johnson, whose under-performing squad arrived in Cardiff today for the RBS 6 Nations showdown.

Williams is battling to recover from an ankle injury suffered during Wales’ tournament-opening victory over Scotland last weekend.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland hopes to make just one change from that successful Murrayfield mission, having recalled fit-again captain Ryan Jones instead of blindside flanker Dafydd Jones.

But Scarlets wing Mark Jones, who has not played since undergoing appendix surgery last month, is on full alert to replace Williams, while Dafydd Jones could rapidly reappear off the replacements’ bench if number eight Andy Powell is sidelined by a calf muscle strain.

Powell pulled up in training yesterday, although fears about his prospects are considerably less than those for current world player of the year Williams.

Gatland said: "We have given Shane until (today) because he’s a bit of a talisman for us.

"I think he had 20-odd touches against Scotland last weekend, which for a wing is pretty exceptional. He is the biggest concern - he’s probably 50-50. Andy is probably 90-10 in favour of being fit. It’s just a tightness of the calf, and hopefully it will ease up for tomorrow’s captain’s run."

Mark Jones, despite a chronic shortage of rugby since Christmas, will be promoted from outside the match-day 22 to win his 44th cap if Williams is ruled out.

Williams has scored a Welsh record 45 tries in 62 Tests and was last season’s leading Six Nations finisher.

Wales are chasing a hat-trick of Six Nations wins against England for the first time, but their fearsome attacking edge would be blunted to a degree without the mesmeric Ospreys star.

Gatland, who did not consider centre Gavin Henson due to his ongoing recovery from a calf muscle problem, accepts England are currently "quite hard to read".

After a dismal autumn series that produced comprehensive defeats against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, England at least launched their Six Nations campaign by scoring five tries to beat Italy, even if it proved a painfully laboured display.

Wales have been installed as red-hot favourites to dispatch England at the Millennium Stadium, making it two wins out of two before tackling France in Paris later this month. Gatland though is well aware about the dangers of people writing England off.

"How many times has it happened in the past where people have rocked up to see a Welsh team expecting to win, and they’ve gone away disappointed?" he said.

"If we play to our potential, we’ve got a good chance of winning, but there are two teams involved here.

One team is smarting from a lot of criticism of recent performances and a lot of criticism of the coaching set-up and stuff.

"I think they will come out really looking to put us under pressure.

"Their backs are to the wall, and if they come away from there, then not just us, but everyone, will get the old two fingers up and they can jump on the bus and go away pretty satisfied."