Silver lining of injuries is that Wales will be a better attacking side
Call-ups for Liam and Scott Williams sharpen both the side’s vision and their cutting edge
It should not be all doom and gloom in Wales. The injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb – and we should not forget that my namesake Jonathan Davies is out of the event too – are cruel, and all three will be missed, but these things happen in sport and you just have to get on with it. There really is no alternative.
And you know what? It may be that Wales are a better attacking side because of these enforced changes. For Liam Williams and Scott Williams, the replacements for Halfpenny and Davies, have been Wales’s most dangerous attackers in the past year.
I have said for a long time that Halfpenny should be on the wing, with Liam Williams at full-back. Williams will get his chance now and I expect that, once he has got some game time after his foot operation, he will show people what Wales have been missing in counter-attacking creativity.
Of course, Halfpenny’s kicking will be missed, especially from distance, because he is the best in the world. And I am sure the opposition’s attitude will change. Before, they would not have dared concede a penalty near the halfway line. Now they might not be quite so worried.
That is not to say that fly-half Dan Biggar, who is being rested tomorrow against Uruguay but is definitely first choice, cannot kick. Of course, he can. He is a fine place-kicker with a high success rate (86 per cent in the Pro 12 last season for the Ospreys), but he just does not quite have the distance that Halfpenny does.
What I do know, though, is that Biggar will not be affected by the dual role of controlling the game from 10 and the goal-kicking duties. Eighteen months ago I would not have been so certain about that, even though he has always done both for the Ospreys, because he was more easily distracted. He has matured and is now the key figure in the Wales back line.
Scott Williams will also thrive, even though he will be playing at outside centre once Jamie Roberts returns for the England game. He is just so sharp going forward.
As for scrum-half, Webb has been brilliant, but it should be remembered that only 12 months ago Gareth Davies was ahead of him in the pecking order.
Injuries played their part and Webb took his chance, but Davies might surprise a lot of people. Two seasons ago he was the leading try scorer in the Pro 12, with Webb taking that mantle last season.
Will Wales play differently
because of these changes? I am not sure they will alter their general style, which has been so successful under Warren Gatland, but I hope that they adapt a little bit and show more variety in attack.
They will surely play with more width and ambition than usual against Uruguay because they will need to rack up the points in case the pool comes down to points difference. But I do not expect them to show too much ahead of the England game.
Which brings us on to the million-dollar question: who will win this ‘Pool of Death’? Well, firstly it is such a shame that three such good sides are in the same pool. That cannot be right. And secondly it is not just a case of me being loyal to Wales when I say that it is just too difficult to predict.
That was the case when the pool was drawn and it remains so now. Yes, even before their injuries, I would have said that Wales were third favourites, simply because they have not beaten Australia in their past 10 matches and because England are so hard to beat at Twickenham.
But this is no ordinary Welsh side. I am certain that on their day they can beat England and Australia. England and Australia will know that, too and that is why it is so difficult to predict.
Wales cannot afford any more injuries, though. You only had to look at what happened this week when injured wing Eli Walker was replaced by a back-row forward in Ross Moriarty. It did not seem logical, considering that Walker had replaced Halfpenny. But Gareth Anscombe is injured and James Hook cannot play on the wing, and the management clearly thought the next batch of players were not up to the task.
It might be England’s tournament but Wales is also very proud to be hosting matches, and there is great excitement here, especially for the home pool matches against Uruguay and Fiji. Whether people will pay the prices for the other games in Cardiff, we will have to see.
But this is a wonderful opportunity for northernhemisphere rugby to increase its popularity. When I played in the very first Rugby World Cup in 1987, when we arrived in Australia the customs officers asked us why we were there. When we said that we were coming to play in a World Cup, they were astounded.
“What World Cup?” they were asking. You will not find that happening now. The way the competition has grown has been incredible. I can only see that increasing in the coming weeks.