WALES will go into tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations showdown against England without two thirds of their British and Irish Lions Test front row.
Gethin Jenkins has joined hooker Matthew Rees on the sidelines, severely denting Welsh hopes of a fourth successive Six Nations win against their fierce rivals.
Jenkins failed a fitness test on a calf muscle problem prior to Wales’ departure for their Richmond base yesterday. Ospreys forward Paul James is promoted from the bench to replace him, with uncapped Saracens prop Rhys Gill coming onto the bench.
Jenkins’ withdrawal follows the loss of Rees, whose groin injury sidelined him from Wales coach Warren Gatland’s selection plans for Twickenham.
Gatland said: “Obviously, it is not ideal for us to lose Gethin at this stage, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
“Paul James has been one of the form props in the Welsh regions so far this season, and we are confident he will be a more than able deputy for Gethin.”
James, 27, started all four of Wales’ autumn Tests this season as a tighthead prop replacement for Adam Jones.
Loosehead, though, is his familiar position for the Ospreys.
Jones is now back after recovering from a serious shoulder injury suffered on the Lions tour of South Africa last summer.
But Gatland’s hopes of fielding an all-Lions Test front row boasting 162 caps opposite an inexperienced English trio comprised of Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and David Wilson have been decimated.
Wales, with Jenkins and Rees packing down alongside the destructive Jones, would have been expected to make life distinctly uncomfortable for an England front row of Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and David Wilson.
It is a task, though, that now lies with Jones, James and Cardiff Blues hooker Gareth Williams – whose last Six Nations start was almost seven years ago. Jenkins will remain with the Wales camp and be reassessed next week. Wales’ second Six Nations game is against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in nine days’ time.
Wales back James Hook, meanwhile, insists the speculation currently raging about his playing future will not prove a distraction during this season’s Six Nations.
French champions Perpignan and last season’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists Cardiff Blues have been on his trail, together with several Guinness Premiership clubs.
“My thoughts are on Wales at the moment,” said Hook.
“It (speculation) is flattering and it’s nice to know clubs want me and things, but to be honest, I am just focusing on the Six Nations.
“When offers come in for you, you have got to take a look at them. I am not going to look at them just yet because my contract is up next year. When the time comes, I will take a look.”
Meanwhile, England captain Steve Borthwick yesterday outlined the importance of his team’s responsibility to act as role models.
The Saracens lock will lead England for a 17th consecutive international against Wales. Only Will Carling, with an unbroken run of 44 Tests, has done it more often.
Borthwick enjoys a relatively low profile, especially when compared to beleaguered England football captain John Terry.
Borthwick declined to address the Terry situation but he was happy to explain the importance placed within the England rugby squad on setting the right example to the next generation.
“After games and open training sessions, you see guys like Jonny Wilkinson and all the players signing autographs for hundreds of kids,” said Borthwick.
“All the players have a responsibility. They all understand they are helping other young rugby players come through. If you are not captain you still have that responsibility.”
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