Warren Gatland has defended his decision to play Leigh Halfpenny in Wales’ final World Cup warm-up game against Italy.
British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny suffered a serious knee injury in the closing minutes of Wales’ 23-19 victory in Cardiff on Saturday and has been ruled out of the World Cup.
Wales legend Shane Williams questioned Gatland’s decision to play Halfpenny given the goal-kicker’s importance to the national team, saying the 26-year-old should have been wrapped up in cotton wool ahead of the tournament.
But Wales head coach Gatland, speaking at a press conference where it was revealed the Millennium Stadium would be renamed Principality Stadium, said the strapping on Halfpenny’s knee was not related to the separate injury which was to rule him out of the World Cup.
“There was more than one player out there with strapping,” said Gatland, who on Tuesday also lost his first-choice scrum-half Rhys Webb for the tournament with a foot injury.
“Half-a-dozen players or probably more than that get strapped up before every game.
“Leigh had that strapping on before the game in Dublin. It’s something he’d had there for the last three weeks and used it when he was kicking.
“He said he didn’t really need the strapping, but because he’d been using it for the last two or three weeks, he put it on. He had just been a little bit tight in the back of his knee about three weeks ago.
“It was nothing to do with the injury that he picked up on the weekend. And it wasn’t heavy strapping, it was very light strapping. I checked that out with the physios.
“I know there has been some criticism about protecting players and you always question yourself about that.
“It’s just trying to get the balance right between players having enough rugby and keeping players fresh.
“If they weren’t involved in the first group game against Uruguay and then played against England, well, that’s four weeks between the two matches.
“For some of those players that’s a little bit long and they want to play a bit more.”
Gatland has called veteran scrum-half Mike Phillips and Ospreys wing Eli Walker into the squad to cover the absences of Halfpenny and Webb but he expressed disappointment at losing two key players on the eve of the tournament.
Meanwhile Italy talisman Sergio Parisse faces a World Cup fitness fight after having fluid drained from his left leg. The Stade Francais number eight had an operation in Paris on Monday after suffering his injury blow in Saturday’s 23-19 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
The 31-year-old Italy captain will now face a race against time to be fit for the Azzurri’s World Cup opener against France at Twickenham on Saturday week.
The Italians will be desperate to have their leader and focal point back-rower back in time to face Les Bleus in London next weekend. Italy will face Ireland on Sunday October 4.
Italy released a medical bulletin on Tuesday but were refusing to put a timescale on Parisse’s return to fitness.
“Updates on the player’s recovery timescale will be transmitted in the coming days,” Italy’s statement said.
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