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Wales Ready To Bet Everything On Taulupe Faletau Rising To World Cup Challenge

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By Paul Jones

Wales coach Warren Gatland says he is “pretty confident” that star back-row forward Taulupe Faletau will be available for World Cup selection.

The Cardiff number eight, who has won 100 caps, will play no part in Wales’ tournament warm-up schedule as he continues his recovery from a calf muscle injury.

He is not involved against England at Twickenham on Saturday, and has also been ruled out of contention to face world champions South Africa in Cardiff on Saturday week.
Gatland said: “Taulupe won’t be available next week.

“He trained pretty well today, he is not feeling anything in his calf, so we are pretty confident he is available for selection.”

Centre Johnny Williams and wing Alex Cuthbert, though, are on course to be available for South Africa’s visit, with fly-half Gareth Anscombe ruled out as a precautionary measure after taking a knock to his thumb during Wales’ training camp in Turkey.

Gatland is set to name his final 33-strong World Cup squad within the next fortnight as the clock continues ticking on players’ selection hopes.

“I am expecting a group of players who are desperate to perform. It is a good situation to be in,” Gatland added, ahead of Saturday’s clash.

“England have picked their (World Cup) squad, so they will want to go out there and perform.

“But sometimes, it is almost the relief of being selected in the squad, and whether you are quite there emotionally. That’s the challenge for them to get up.

“I know we have a group of players that are in the right head-space because that team went out last week (Wales beat England 20-9 in Cardiff) they weren’t perfect, but they showed some great signs of what we are looking for as a group.

“There is a lot at stake, and players are well aware of that. We are not highlighting that or trying to put extra pressure on them.”

Asked about players’ World Cup selection prospects who have yet to feature in the summer Tests, Gatland said: “It is going to be tougher for them isn’t?

“If they haven’t trained a lot and they haven’t played, you might get an opportunity next week and you have probably got to have a pretty special game.

“Some of those players might get that chance next week. We will see how Saturday goes. It is always a challenge for players who have had injuries and haven’t taken a full part.”

Gatland was linked with the England head coach’s job following Eddie Jones’ sacking last year, before Steve Borthwick was appointed as the Australian’s successor.

Asked if he looked back and wished he was in the England camp, Gatland added: “Not really. I’m happy that I’m here.”

He was more forthcoming on England fly-half Marcus Smith, though, a player who Gatland believes is a potential world superstar.

“I just think he is an incredibly talented player. I like him as a person, I like him as a rugby player,” he said.

“There has been so much negativity around rugby the last couple of years.

“We need to be positive about the game, and how do we create superstars in the game where kids want to look up to people and wear their jersey and play in their back yard and call themselves Marcus Smith. Potentially, he can be that superstar.”

Wales, meanwhile, will lock horns with Jones’ Australia team at the World Cup, facing them in a potentially pivotal pool clash on September 24.

Australia did not win a game in this summer’s Rugby Championship, while Jones’ World Cup squad announced on Thursday features a solitary recognised fly-half and no place for former captain Michael Hooper.

“He (Jones) seems comfortable with throwing a few curve-balls in there. He has spoken really positively about what they are capable of doing,” Gatland added.

“Eddie talked about smash and grab in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe (Cup). Maybe part two of that will work, but part one hasn’t come off.”

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