Wales led to RWC by rising star Warburton
Wales will set off for New Zealand next week with their youngest-ever Rugby World Cup captain at the helm in 22-year-old Sam Warburton, who only led his country for the first time against the Barbarians in June.
The flanker leads a squad with good reason to be optimistic, coming off the back of warm-up victories over England and Argentina at the Millennium Stadium and boosted by the return from injury of prop Adam Jones.
Jones played an hour in the 28-13 win over Argentina last weekend, enough to convince coach Warren Gatland he was fit enough to be on the plane. The Welsh scrum was steadier with the Ospreys tighthead back in harness after he missed all but the final match of Wales’ Six Nations campaign with a shoulder injury then struggled with a toe injury in summer training.
Welsh hopes of fielding an all-Lions front-row were ruined when hooker and captain Matthew Rees was ruled out earlier in August with a neck injury. Rees’ absence means uncapped hooker Ken Owens comes into the side, while Gatland can take solace from the fact prop Gethin Jenkins has proved his fitness.
With dynamic players in the back five of the scrum such as rangy second row Alun Wyn Jones and number 8 – and former captain – Ryan Jones, Wales will hope their pack can secure enough ball to release their gifted backs.
Their first match – on 11 September against South Africa, whom Wales have never played in a Rugby World Cup – shapes as one of the highlights of the pool stages, and in Andy Powell they have a ball-carrier who will relish the physicality presented by the Springbok pack.
There will be no fourth World Cup, however, for flanker Martyn Williams, who played in the match against Argentina.
Scrum half Tavis Knoyle, a replacement for Mike Phillips at the Millennium Stadium at the weekend, is rewarded for his performances in Wales’ warm-up games with a place in the 30-man squad.
Wales will need their big guns to fire if they are to arrest the run of plucky but ultimately unsuccessful World Cup displays. In 1999 and 2003 they went down to the eventual winners, Australia and England respectively. In 2007 they lost the crucial pool game against Fiji 38-34, costing them a quarter-final place.
Wales have never surpassed their third place in 1987, and in fact have failed on three occasions (1991, 1995 and 2007) to get out of the pool stage.
Wales squad for RWC 2011:
Forwards: Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Lloyd Burns, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Toby Faletau, Paul James, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones, Dan Lydiate, Craig Mitchell, Ken Owens, Andy Powell, Sam Warburton (captain).
Backs: Aled Brew, Lee Byrne, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, James Hook, Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle, George North, Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams, Scott Williams, Shane Williams.
Squad subject to RWCL approval
- Playoff Winner
- South Africa
- New Zealand