Jenkins set to miss World Cup opener
August 16, 2011
Jenkins is a key part of Gatland's World Cup plan © Getty Images
Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins is set to miss their World Cup opener against South Africa in Wellington on September 11.
While centre Gavin Henson and hooker Matthew Rees have disappeared from World Cup view because of injuries, Gatland is optimistic prop Jenkins will feature in New Zealand, though admits he is likely to sit out the start of the competition.
Jenkins, who has won 76 caps, underwent toe surgery seven months ago and was then laid low by a calf problem. He did not feature during last season's Six Nations Championship and has not appeared in a Test match since Wales lost at home to New Zealand almost nine months ago.
The 30-year-old loosehead, though, could make Wales' second World Cup pool game - a possible make-or-break appointment with Samoa in Hamilton.
In addition to Henson (wrist) and Rees (neck), wing Morgan Stoddart suffered a broken leg against England 10 days ago, with Wales having one tournament warm-up match remaining at home to Argentina on Saturday. Gatland will announce a 30-man World Cup squad next Monday, and while Jenkins is likely to be included, he is currently not available for match-day selection.
"Unfortunately, Gethin's calf is still not 100%, and that is a concern for us," said Gatland. "We have had him rescanned, and there is some damage in the calf. I would say it probably rules him out of consideration for the South Africa game if selected (for the squad).
"He is as frustrated as anyone. He has worked really hard, he just hasn't been able to get himself right. We know what a quality player he is, and the hope is he will show signs of improvement and maybe we will be able to consider him for other games in the World Cup.
"You don't want to go to the World Cup carrying too many players that aren't 100% fit. For the forwards, there is a lot of depth at the moment. We might have the luxury of being able to carry one, maybe two. It's more than three weeks before our first World Cup game, and the physios are confident they should have him right by then. Maybe the second game of the World Cup he might be available for.
"The whole preparation the last couple of years has been about trying to get a squad together with some depth to go to New Zealand, and we feel like we've got a number of players in certain positions that have given us that depth."
No.8 Ryan Jones, who skippers Wales for a record-equalling 28th time this weekend, takes over leadership duties from a rested Sam Warburton, while Cardiff Blues flanker Martyn Williams wins his 99th cap. Elsewhere, fullback Lee Byrne, wing Leigh Halfpenny, scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Adam Jones join Williams and Jones in starting their first game this month.
Five other players - centre Jamie Roberts, wing George North, prop Paul James, lock Alun-Wyn Jones and flanker Dan Lydiate - will head to New Zealand having started all three warm-up fixtures. Among those looking for an opportunity off the bench this weekend will be Sale Sharks back-row forward Andy Powell, but his club colleague - scrum-half Dwayne Peel - is again not involved and looks certain to miss the final World Cup cut.
Gatland, whose team toppled England 19-9 last time out, added: "To win on Saturday would give us some great confidence getting on the plane. No way can we underestimate Argentina - they've been together six or sevens weeks as a squad - and they will be picking a strong side.
"We know how well they did in 2007, finishing third in the World Cup. They've got a big front-five, it is an experienced team with a lot of players playing in Europe, so they are going to be a tough proposition for us.
"Criteria for (Wales) selection has been about putting together a side to win the game, but also about giving some players the opportunity to impress and, therefore, bid for selection for the World Cup. In some areas, we are also looking at combinations with that opening game against South Africa on September 11 always kept in mind.
"Beating the Pumas on Saturday would also mean we retain that all-important winning momentum going into the World Cup."
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