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Gambler Gatland Has Credit In The Bank That Make His Casino Selections A Fair Bet

Warren Gatland has rolled the dice in his World Cup selection but Robin Davey says the proof of the pudding will be in the Japanese eating and that the Wales coach has good form in the kitchen.

Warren Gatland has enjoyed unprecedented success in charge of Wales, but as he heads into his final challenge at the World Cup in Japan he has taken a big gamble.

He has decided to go to Japan with only five players in arguably the most testing, most demanding position of all at prop, and one of those is a rookie.

Gatland’s surprise decision to ditch experienced pair Rob Evans and Samson Lee – admittedly, because of possible fitness issues – and go with a real bolter in Rhys Carre, has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Even more so as Gatland is taking a player who is already out of the opening World Cup game against Georgia and there is merely a hope he will make the second match against Australia.

Cory Hill has been selected in the squad though he hasn’t played a game since he injured an ankle while scoring a try in the Six Nations clash way back in February.

On top of that it was discovered Hill has suffered a slight fracture in his leg, making it touch and go whether he could make the tournament at all.

In Hill’s case Gatland decided to go with medical advice which said Hill should be fit for that second encounter in Japan.

But as ever with a gamble the man responsible for taking it will be applauded it it succeeds – and there are no hitches – but will be criticised heavily if it turns out there are major issues.

What makes the decision at prop even more difficult to understand is that Wales have experienced real scrummaging problems during the World Cup warm-up games.

The five props who will be making the trip are Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, Nicky Smith, Wyn Jones and young Carre.

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Gatland has overlooked Evans because he says he went into camp with a shoulder issue and then developed neck and back problems while Lee had missed a few campaigns and also had experienced hamstring problems.

And Gatland also cited evidence from the training camps in his decision to go with Carre, who a few months ago it is fair to say was a complete unknown.

According to the head coach, Carre started the summer camps a fair way down the ladder in terms of fitness and was also carrying too many pounds. Yet, by the end of them, he was the fittest of the lot.

So, although Carre’s only appearance in a Wales jersey was against Ireland last week he will be on the plane to Japan as a real bolter.

Of course, if there are injuries replacements can be flown out pretty quickly, but that can be disruptive while the player concerned may not be up to speed with decision-making and calls.

So, it remains a gamble and it’s hoped it doesn’t backfire on Gatland, though it has to be said he has an impressive record when it comes to his selection hunches.

If he goes with it, there must be good reason and his inclusion of some unproved kids for the 2011 tournament turned out to be a real tone-setter.

Eight years ago, he picked a 22-year-old as his captain in Sam Warburton and took an uncapped Ken Owens, a 20-year-old with three caps in Faletau, a 19-year-old George North, and a 20-year-old Scott Williams who had just four caps.

Wales unexpectedly reached the semi-finals in 2011, so time will tell if the 2019 gamble pays off.

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Elsewhere, Rhys Patchell was such a success against Ireland last Saturday that his inclusion in the final squad was a formality and there is a suggestion that he may even supplant Dan Biggar as number one.

Fears that Wales would struggle in the absence of the unfortunate Gareth Anscombe have now been partly dispelled after the convincing display by Patchell, who scored a fine try and kicked really well, aside from setting his backs moving.

That is not to discredit the other candidate, Jarrod Evans, who started the game and had to perform at a time when the pack was struggling but he didn’t command proceedings in the way Patchell did.

Ospreys centre Williams was another who failed to make it as the back problems he had experienced failed to convince Gatland that was a gamble worth taking.

Instead, Owen Watkin will be on the plane, and so will Hallam Amos whose versatility probably won him the vote ahead of Owen Lane. The wing had impressed against Ireland but just missed out.

Most of the other positions were pretty much done and dusted, the decision to take just five props opening the way for an extra back row forward. James Davies earned a call-up and he will travel with brother and centre Jonathan.

Clearly, Faletau will be missed in that department and fingers and toes will be crossed that Ross Moriarty, the only specialist No.8 in the party, will come through unscathed.

At least Wales won’t carry the tag of world No.1 ranking going into the World Cup after their defeat by Ireland, which could actually be a blessing.

But they won’t want another setback in the return in Dublin this Saturday, for though again it’s only a friendly, three defeats out of four in the warm-up matches would hardly be good for morale.

Victory in the Irish stronghold would be just the tonic Wales need going into the global tournament.


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