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Rugby World Cup: Gatland backs Wales to play without fear

Wales will unleash their thrilling group of young players on World Cup rivals Ireland this weekend, with coach Warren Gatland claiming there is “no fear factor”.

Eight of Gatland's matchday 22 for the quarter-final are aged 23 or under, which confirms the impact Wales' new generation have made on the tournament.

There are no places in the starting line-up for British and Irish Lions quartet James Hook, Lee Byrne, Stephen Jones and Ryan Jones, with full-back Byrne and 102 times-capped Stephen Jones missing out completely.

Flanker Dan Lydiate's return from an ankle ligament injury means Gatland can reunite an outstanding back-row of Lydiate, skipper Sam Warburton and number eight Toby Faletau, whose combined age is just 66.

There is an opportunity in the full-back position for 22-year-old Leigh Halfpenny, while the bench features scrum-half Lloyd

Williams (21) and centre Scott Williams (20).

“What has been great about this World Cup is that we've got a lot of youngsters with no fear factor,” Gatland said. “They have got no history as well. We have just encouraged them to make the right decisions.

“We've talked about times when you want to be smart, play territory and the weather conditions, but if you feel there is an opportunity to move and play, you want to encourage that.”

Gatland admitted his team selection meeting was one of the longest since he took charge almost four years ago as the coaches pored over every option presented by a fully-fit squad.

He added: “We didn't have a huge playing base in Wales and sometimes in the past if you have had three or four key injuries it has not always been about who you are going to leave out, but who you are going to pick in certain positions.

“The nice thing is I feel we have a balance we haven't had before.”

But Gatland has been “incredibly impressed by Ireland”.

He added: “Ireland had a lot of criticism pre-World Cup in terms of their warm-up games, but they played France twice and England as well. But it's about fronting up and performing when it matters at the World Cup.

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Their first game against the USA wasn't the greatest, but then they had a great win over Australia and in the second half against Italy they were outstanding.”

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