Wales v South Africa, Millennium Stadium, November 13
Warburton blow for Wales
November 9, 2010
Sam Warburton will miss Wales' three remaining autumn internationals © Getty Images
Wales have lost exciting back-row prospect Sam Warburton for Saturday's clash against world champions South Africa, but they could be bolstered by the return of two British and Irish Lions.
Flanker Warburton, viewed as heir apparent to 96 times-capped Martyn Williams, has been sidelined with a calf muscle injury. The 22-year-old will be out for two to three weeks, effectively ending his autumn campaign after just one game.
Fullback Lee Byrne and last season's Wales skipper Ryan Jones though, look set to feature in the selection mix this week. Both players trained on Tuesday after missing the 25-16 defeat to Australia, Byrne making a quicker-than-expected recovery from a broken hand, while back-row forward Jones is winning his battle to overcome calf trouble.
"I managed to have a jog yesterday and I was back training this morning, so we will see how the rest of the week goes," Jones said. "Touch wood, so far, so good, I've had no reaction. I feel fine, I feel good in myself."
Wales forwards' coach Robin McBryde added on Tuesday: "Lee and Ryan took an active part in training today, so if they keep on going through the week they will be available for selection. It's a big boost. We are not blessed with a great amount of depth, so to have two quality players to come back would be a big plus for us.
"We are always trying to create a bit of competition regards selection, and those two would certainly add more to the mix. They are hugely experienced and an asset to any team."
Jones would enter a competitive back-row equation alongside the likes of Williams, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Thomas and Andy Powell ahead of coach Warren Gatland's scheduled team announcement on Thursday. And if Byrne is available, it would give Gatland the chance to move his most creative player - Ospreys star James Hook - from fullback last weekend into midfield.
One area Gatland is not expected to tinker with is the front five after an outstanding collective display by Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Bradley Davies and Alun-Wyn Jones against Australia. But McBryde knows the Springboks will pose an intense physical threat to a Wales unit that gained rave reviews following their demolition job on the Wallabies.
"The tight five got through a great amount of work on Saturday and really provided a platform, especially in the scrum, and we were able to take advantage of our dominance there," he said. "In the loose, I think we can improve with how effective we can be. As opposed to just holding onto possession, it's actually making the most of that.
"We are only as good as our last performance. Traditionally, we've sort of started slowly and got better as the games have gone on. We really set down our marker in the first game and we are looking to build on that in the next three.
"Out of the three big southern hemisphere teams, perhaps they (South Africa) are the ones who have adapted slowest to the new interpretations of the law and the way the game has gone. I am sure they will have worked very hard behind the scenes to make up the ground lost, in the eyes of some, on New Zealand and Australia, and they will be looking to adapt their game likewise.
"It's the challenge up front. We know they are going to be very tough at the set-piece. If we can build on last weekend's performance, match the intensity and look for that share of possession, then hopefully we can be a little bit more effective with it and ask some more questions of the opposition, defensively.
"There are different strengths and weaknesses with every team. We adapted against Australia and made some subtle changes to our game plan. South Africa pose different threats. It is much more of a physical, direct threat. We've got to tailor our approach in attack and defence to match South Africa.
"As a front five, I think they are gelling together. We can match anyone physically and I think that's where the biggest challenge is going to be for us this weekend, up front.
"We are blessed with a front row that played against South Africa for the British and Irish Lions last summer, and we are all aware of the outcome then."
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