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Wales must deliver without Halfpenny

By Phil Blanche

Published 08/09/2015

End of the world: Leigh Halfpenny before his injury
End of the world: Leigh Halfpenny before his injury

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering knee ligament damage on Saturday.

Halfpenny was injured during Wales' 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Italy at the Millennium Stadium and scans on his knee revealed the damage.

"Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny has suffered an ACL injury, ruling him out of the forthcoming Rugby World Cup," a Welsh Rugby Union statement read.

"Leigh will undergo further examination and assessment before further details are announced."

Halfpenny was injured on a desperate day for Wales as scrum-half Rhys Webb, last season's Welsh player of the year, damaged ankle ligaments and is also in serious danger of missing the World Cup.

The Toulon full-back's worst fears were confirmed by the scan results and reports in France suggested Halfpenny could be out of rugby for as long as six months.

Halfpenny's World Cup absence is a huge blow for Warren Gatland's side as the reliable goal-kicker has scored 508 points in 62 Tests, with only Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones scoring more points for Wales.

Coach Gatland must now summon replacements this week with British and Irish Lions pair James Hook and Mike Phillips - together with New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe - in the frame for World Cup calls. Gloucester utility back Hook and Racing 92 scrum-half Phillips were both cut from Gatland's training squad last month, but their combined experience counts for more than 170 Wales caps.

Cardiff Blues back Anscombe is currently recovering from an ankle problem and, like Hook, offers goal-kicking expertise, although that key role seems set to be handed to outside-half Dan Biggar.

Liam Williams, who is poised to take a full part in training this week after being laid low by a foot injury, is the obvious candidate to take over Halfpenny's full-back duties, with fellow Scarlet Gareth Davies the most likely starter at scrum-half in Webb's absence.

Wales' first Pool A fixture is against Uruguay on September 20 before they play England at Twickenham six days later. Fiji and Australia are also in the so-called 'Pool of Death'.

"Further medical updates regarding the national squad will be made when available," the WRU said in a statement.

Team-mate Dan Biggar has described the situation as "disastrous" and the retired Shane Williams has criticised Warren Gatland for risking Halfpenny in a warm-up fixture so close to the tournament's start.

Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, however, has defended his coach's decision, even though he knows that they could suffer as a consequence.

"It's a blow, there's no doubting that," said Roberts, Wales' leading centre and a qualified doctor.

"They're two quality players, two first-team players. It's a huge blow. The qualities of both of them shouldn't be under-estimated. They're two quality lads who bring a lot to the team and the squad environment. The timing of this one is desperately unfortunate.

"They were quite nasty. They looked in a lot of pain.

"It's a big blow if they're ruled out - two wonderful players, first-team players, who've been instrumental in our success in the past few years. It's difficult. It'll test our strength in depth, but this is why Warren has bred strength in depth."

Belfast Telegraph

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