Warren Gatland remains positive despite injury crisis
Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb are all injured for Wales.
Warren Gatland has taken Wales’ crippling injury crisis on the chin ahead of Saturday’s NatWest 6 Nations opener against Scotland.
Wales go into the Principality Stadium clash without around 500 caps’ worth of experience, having lost, among others, players like Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb.
While wings George North and Liam Williams could be in contention for next week’s Twickenham appointment with Six Nations title holders England, the current list of absentees has hit Wales hard.
TEAM NEWS 🏴 Wales name team for @SixNationsRugby opener against @Scotlandteam, with @JoshAdams951 set for debut. Gêm enfawr yn @principalitysta! https://t.co/PnCmyDtWAa #WALvSCO pic.twitter.com/LWVDnL3tdE— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 30, 2018
But Wales head coach Gatland, whose starting line-up to face Scotland includes Test match debutant Josh Adams on the right-wing and a record 10 Scarlets players, will not be looking for excuses.
“We are all aware of the pressure on players, particularly after a Lions year,” he said. “Players haven’t had a huge amount of time in the off-season to repair and recover.
“A lot of teams are in the same boat, but it’s just the way the game is going. Sometimes, teams just have a run of injuries.
“I look at it as a positive. Other players are going to get an opportunity to put down a marker. It helps us develop some depth for the World Cup in Japan in 2019.”
Worcester wing Adams has been rewarded for his blistering Aviva Premiership form with a first Wales start. The Swansea-born 22-year-old is the Premiership’s top try-scorer this season.
Adams, the only non-Scarlets player in a back division that sees Rhys Patchell replacing Biggar at fly-half, has starred for the Warriors this term despite their lowly league position.
It will be Patchell’s sixth cap, but his first start in the Wales number 10 shirt, while other Scarlets players selected include centre Hadleigh Parkes, wing Steff Evans, who is available again after suspension, scrum-half Gareth Davies and prop Samson Lee.
“He (Adams) has done well,” Gatland added.
“Probably the advantage he has over the other guys was he has been playing regularly. Hallam Amos hasn’t played much rugby, and neither has George North.
“Josh gets a great opportunity to stake a claim. We have had a look at him recently, and he has been scoring tries for a Worcester in a team that’s not at the top of the table.
“He has got to take some credit for that, and we have been impressed with him the last couple of weeks he has been in camp with us.”
There is no place in the match-day 23 for Northampton star North, whose season has been blighted by knee trouble, while a tight hamstring meant he did not make a scheduled start when Saints faced Anglo-Welsh Cup opponents Sale Sharks last weekend.
Tough day today. Was nice to be back out there again. Massive thanks to Nathan and the whole medical and S&C team on getting me back. Onwards and upwards now! Big thanks for the support! 💪🏼👊🏼🏉— George North (@George_North) January 20, 2018
And Saracens back Williams is continuing his rehabilitation from an abdominal/groin injury. He has not played since mid-November.
“He (North) needs some rugby,” Gatland said. “His hamstrings were a little bit tight after a quality week of training.
“He is going to be released back to Northampton to get a game this weekend to hopefully put him in contention for a place against England.
“With Liam, we are doing a serious amount of rehab on him at the moment, so that he potentially is in contention (for England). He’s running today to see how that injury is and how he’s able to cope with some of the pain issues he has had.”
Wales have not won the Six Nations title since 2013, and they need to make a winning start against a side they last lost at home to 16 years ago, especially as they then face successive away games against England and Ireland.