Warren Gatland has revealed that Taulupe Faletau was still some way behind the rest of the Wales players when he was ruled out of the World Cup.
Faletau broke his collarbone in training last week and will stay at home with Bath when his international teammates head for Japan next month.
But after also missing last season’s Six Nations with a broken arm, the Wales coach has admitted his Lions No.8 was still lagging behind when he suffered the latest setback.
“He still had some work to do – he was catching up,” said Gatland.
“He hadn’t been with us for a while, so there was still some work to do from a conditioning perspective. But he had made some good progress.
“It was disappointing for him and you’ve got to feel for Toby. He showed a couple of signs of his real class in training.
“You get a player who had hardly ever been injured in Wales and then he leaves and he gets injuries.”
Faletau, 28, has not played for Wales since the end of the 2018 Six Nations campaign, twice suffering a broken arm last season which restricted his starts for Bath to just five.
He was a virtual ever-present in the Wales side after making his debut in 2011 until he joined Bath five years later. But he has started only two Six Nations matches in his three seasons in the west country having suffered knee and arm injuries.
His absence has put a lot of the focus on Wales managing to get to Japan with Ross Moriarty still fit, although Josh Navidi can also operate at No.8.
Gatland has picked Moriarty at No.8 to play against England in Sunday’s first warm-up game ahead of the World Cup and suggested he will stick with the same team against England in Cardiff next Saturday, before making changes for the games against Ireland.
“If we feel we need to protect some players then we’ll do that,” added Gatland.
“Fingers crossed that we don’t pick up too many injuries going forward. We’re bound to get one or two more but, hopefully, not too many.”
Gatland says that Alun Wyn Jones fully deserves all the accolades as he prepares to become Wales’ most capped player.
Lock Jones will make his 135th Test-match appearance – 126 for Wales and nine in British and Irish Lions colours – at Twickenham, overtaking prop Gethin Jenkins.
“In the last 12 months, he’s done an outstanding job as captain of the side,” added Gatland.
“He’s a player that led incredibly well by example and his attitude during the Six Nations. He is recognised worldwide as one of the best in his position. He thoroughly deserves that.
“The bigger the occasion, the bigger the challenge, the more he seems to thrive. He’s comfortable in the position he’s in at the moment, and he deserves the accolades that are thrown his way.
“What I like about him at the moment is his calmness and the respect he has from the other players. Also, his ability to allow other senior players in the team to express themselves and have a voice.”
Gatland has named a team that includes 13 starters from the Six Nations Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March.
The only players who did not feature in the starting XV against Ireland that run out at Twickenham are prop Nicky Smith and flanker Aaron Wainwright.
It means Gatland parades a side that includes the likes of established players such as Jones, full-back Liam Williams, wing George North, centre Jonathan Davies and flanker Justin Tipuric.
Wales face a return appointment with England in Cardiff on Saturday week, then meet Ireland home and away. Their opening World Cup game is against Georgia on September 23.
Gatland is currently overseeing a 41-man training group before cutting that number by 10 players and announcing his final World Cup squad on September 1.
Wales could be forced into a late change on the replacements’ bench this weekend, with scrum-half Aled Davies likely to take over from Tomos Williams.
Gatland added: “He [Williams] got a shoulder knock in training today. I don’t know the extent of that, but it would probably rule him out of Sunday.
“We originally picked Cory Hill in the second row, but his ankle is a little bit tight and we decided it wasn’t worth the risk. If we feel we need to protect some players, then we’ll do that.
“Josh Navidi had been troubled by a hamstring injury and is back in full training today, and we’ve been looking after James Davies, who has had issues with the back.
“Samson Lee has a hamstring issue, Rob Evans has a shoulder and a neck irritation. Hopefully, they will come into consideration over the next couple of weeks.
“We are trying to be smart about players we expose, but also trying to manage some others.”
Asked about the make-up of his final World Cup squad, Gatland said: “If you gave a piece of paper to everyone in this room and the whole squad, they could probably write down 23 or 24 players who had a good chance of making it.
“That’s completely understandable given where we are at the moment and players that have delivered for us.
“But there are those fringe players, ones coming back from injury, that will get an opportunity through training and probably that home game against Ireland [on August 31].”