Gatland gives Warburton go at blindside
Wales head coach Warren Gatland suggested he already knew his starting line-up for next Saturday’s match against England as he named a team shorn of big names for tomorrow’s clash with Pool A minnows Uruguay. But the New Zealander did throw in a curveball, with captain, Sam Warburton, named at blindside flanker and Justin Tipuric at openside.
The decision to start both Warburton and Tipuric took some observers by surprise as it risks reigniting the thorny old debate about where Warburton is best uti- lised in the back row and whether Gatland should always find a way to accommodate his captain and Tipuric, who some consider to be Wales’s best No 7.
Gatland, who has never started a match with both Warburton and Tipuric, admitted there was a chance that the tactic could be reprised later in the tournament.
“There’s a chance,” Gatland said. “It’s been widely speculated about, the quality of those two players. Personally, I thought Sam was man of match against Italy [in Wales’ final warm-up game]. I think that would have taken pressure off us if he’d got MOTM, but people want to leave that debate [about who Wales’s best openside is] open.
“We’re in a great position to pick two world-class players in that position. Let’s see how Sunday goes and we’ll start thinking about the following week.”
Gatland’s admission that he al- ready knew what team he would pick to face England, however, strongly suggested that he will revert to what he deems to be his strongest team, with Dan Lydiate returning at blindside and Warburton shuffling back to openside for the match at Twickenham.
George North, Alun Wyn Jones, Jamie Roberts, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau, all of whom have been omitted from Wales’s match day squad tomorrow, are also almost certain to return. Asked whether there were still places up for grabs against England, Gatland said: “Not really, no.”
Two players who will certainly be looking to hang on to their places next Saturday are Liam Williams and Samson Lee, both of whom make their return from long-term injury. Gatland added that he was confident prop Lee was fully fit after six months out with a ruptured Achilles.