Wales boss Warren Gatland has welcomed what he believes will be a “big focus” crackdown on foul play during the World Cup.
Gatland’s team open their campaign against 5,000-1 tournament minnows Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, when the likes of George North, Jamie Roberts, Dan Biggar, Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau will all be held back for next week’s Twickenham showdown with England.
When asked on Friday if places in the side to face England were up for grabs this weekend, Gatland said: “Not really, no.”
World Cup referees’ chiefs have already underlined the firm stance that will be taken against offenders, including punishment for any players guilty of diving or similar histrionics.
“We had a meeting on Wednesday with coaches and referees, and I think there is a big focus on foul play,” added Gatland, whose line-up for Uruguay includes fit-again pair Liam Williams and Samson Lee.
“There is a big responsibility. We want to attract more people to the games and to play, and you’ve got to stamp down on foul play, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.
“You may see some yellow cards for things that have been highlighted, like taking players out in the air or not using your arms in a tackle and things like that.
“I think that is good for the game. We want people to be physical, but to play within the laws too.”
And Gatland has short shrift for any player going into the World Cup with an intention of milking penalties.
“There have been a couple of players over the last couple of years going down and milking penalties, but I think it is kicked out of you pretty quickly in this game,” he added.
“You take a bit of abuse from all angles, but it is not something that is prevalent in the game and not an issue.”
Full-back Williams, meanwhile, has not played since the end of last season due to a foot problem, and his Scarlets colleague Lee has been sidelined since suffering an Achilles injury during Wales’ RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland six months ago.
Sam Warburton captains the team, but he will wear the number six shirt, with Justin Tipuric at openside flanker, and there are also starting opportunities for wing Hallam Amos, centre Cory Allen, fly-half Rhys Priestland, scrum-half Gareth Davies and number eight James King.
Williams’ return to full fitness is particularly timely given the World Cup-ending knee injury suffered by Leigh Halfpenny during Wales’ final tournament warm-up fixture against Italy a fortnight ago.
Lee, too, is pivotal to Wales’ hopes of progressing from a punishing pool that also features England, Australia and Fiji, having established a huge reputation in a short space of time for his powerful scrummaging.
“There has been a noticeable edge in training this week, and I think the guys realise that it (World Cup) is pretty close to starting and they have been pretty excited,” Gatland said.
“I don’t think the group is going to come down to points difference. We have got to go out there and first win the game, and after that, potentially score points. It’s not disrespecting Uruguay in any way.”
And skipper Warburton said: “The main thing is you want to get a win. If you are in a bonus-point situation, great, and after that we will be foot down for 80 minutes.
“In no game will we ease up, as you don’t want to look back in four weeks and wish you had pushed a bit harder.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there is an upset in the group. There are some difficult turnarounds for some teams, and I really don’t know what is going to happen.”