Wales surprise as rookie Lane is called up to squad
Uncapped wing replaces injured forward Navidi Shock pick sparked by concerns over centres
Wales have handed a shock call-up to Cardiff Blues’ uncapped winger Owen Lane five days out from their World Cup semi-final against South Africa.
Lane, who is just 21, replaces Josh Navidi in the 31-man squad after the back rower was yesterday ruled out of the rest of the tournament with the hamstring injury he picked up in Sunday’s quarter-final win against France.
Lane left Cardiff yesterday morning to join up with Warren Gatland’s squad in Japan.
Navidi sustained a grade-two tear during Sunday’s 20-19 quarterfinal win over France. But with plenty of back-row cover ahead of Sunday’s semi-final against South
Africa in Yokohama, and with concerns over Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies in the centres, head coach Gatland admitted that he was veering towards selecting a back.
Scott Williams, who has 58 caps for Wales, was favourite to get the nod, as by far the most experienced option. But he only recently returned from a long-term back injury, so his fitness and form might have been a concern.
Williams has made three Pro14 appearances this season, scoring against Benetton on Oct 12.
But Gatland appears to have gone for Lane instead, meaning if Parkes and Davies are ruled out of Sunday’s semi-final, Wales might have to play Owen Watkin and George North in the midfield. Gatland stressed that he expected both Parkes and Davies to be fit.
“We’ll be looking to bring in a replacement [for Navidi] but we’ve just got to go through that process, go through World Rugby at the moment and send some stuff through to them and for them to agree for a replacement to come out,” Gatland said after the squad flew from Oita to Tokyo and checked in to their hotel.
“We haven’t made a decision [on who] yet. We’ve just got to wait until we get that approval from World Rugby and then look to bring someone in.”
Gatland said that Navidi, one of the squad’s leaders, would most likely remain in Japan for moral support. “It’s disappointing for him. Hopefully, we will keep him out here. Obviously he loses his [tournament] accreditation, but since he’s gone so far in the tournament it will be nice for him to stay out for the next couple of weeks.
“We’re going through that with him. It’s disappointing for him as he’s been influential and important for us in the last year. It’s disappointing to have a player ruled out but, in saying that, these games are so physical and to have only one player ruled out at this stage is a real positive for us.”
Gatland said his squad were otherwise in good health, albeit there were a few “sore” bodies in the wake of the France game.
“It will be a light recovery session and then our big training day will be on Wednesday,” he said. “We’ve been pretty lucky [with injuries] and that’s been the whole experience since 2015 – about creating depth in the squad and trying to keep everyone as healthy as we possibly can.”
Wales were far from their best in a laboured performance against France.
Gatland said: “We’ve got to park last night and say we’ve played our get-out-of-jail card and get excited about this weekend,” adding that this was the biggest chance Wales have ever had to make history at a World Cup.
“I think it is,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty clean bill of health in terms of the squad and players to choose from.
“You get these opportunities once in a lifetime, potentially, and you’ve got to grab them with both hands and make the most of it.
“It’s important that we prepare well this week and let the occasion take care of itself.
“The motivation for staff that are leaving, and the players, who may have their last opportunities to leave nothing on the table and make the most of their chances. It’s about having no regrets and that’s the message of this week.
“I have two games left and I might never be involved in international rugby again. That’s a lot of motivation. For a lot of players this will be their last World Cup – a lot in their early 30s who probably won’t be around in four years’ time.
“They are extremely motivated to make the most of the opportunities and hopefully produce a performance on Sunday.
“We are fairly familiar with South Africa and have had a fair bit of success against them. There was a period a few years ago where they were trying to emulate the All Blacks or Australia; trying to be a bit too expansive in the way they played.
“They’ve gone back to their strengths, and their strengths are definitely that physicality up front with driving line-outs and a strong scrum and ball-carrying.”
Big chance: Owen Lane, of Cardiff Blues, is joining Wales’ squad in Japan