When prompted on how he would replace Brian O’Driscoll in the RBS Six Nations, Declan Kidney commented that “you do not just lose one of the best players in the world, and when the replacement comes in expect everything to be the same”. Kidney will not be the only coach deprived of a world class talent this spring however, as Warren Gatland continues to count the cost of mounting injuries.
Already reeling from the loss of Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones, with fitness doubts over Jamie Roberts and Danny Lydiate, Gatland revealed at yesterday’s RBS Six Nations launch that Gethin Jenkins would be ruled out for four to five weeks with a knee injury, missing the matches against Ireland, Scotland and potentially England as well. “He’s a world class player. He’s got a very good rugby brain and is able to assess things on the field. He’s almost like a coach on the field.”
Jenkins also missed the entire 2011 Six Nations championship to injury, in a tournament where Wales finished 4th following losses to both England & France. Where Ireland have lost a player in O’Driscoll whose technical ability in his position is unrivalled, so Wales have done the same. Looking at the men behind him in the pecking order, Paul James has been a solid performer but is nowhere near the level of Jenkins’ quality. This therefore puts the spotlight on Ospreys prop Ryan Bevington and Saracens Rhys Gill to cover the position if Gatland wants to look ahead, though Bevington is behind James at the Ospreys and Gill the same with Matt Stevens at Saracens.
Almost as big a blow is the injury to Rhys Priestland, the star of Wales’ Rugby World Cup campaign whose absence in the semi-final with France with injury affected the side dramatically. Although he may only miss the first match against Ireland, the trip to Dublin is a brutal task for a weakened Welsh team against a side who have a score to settle following their controversial defeat in Cardiff last year, and the loss in the RWC quarter-final. Leigh Halfpenny is expected to take over the goalkicking duties with Priestland absent, with James Hook filling in at fly-half.
The -150c cyro-chambers in Gdansk will be required to work their magic over the next few days so that Lydiate and Roberts land on the right side of 50/50 fitness calls. At full strength, Wales perhaps could have won the Six Nations outright, but following these latest setbacks, the doubts are starting to creep in.
by Ben Coles