Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wales winger Shane Williams to take on England in Six Nations opener

Shane Williams is facing a desperate race to be fit in time for Wales’ Six Nations opener against England, while hooker Matthew Rees may be ruled out of the whole championship.

The 32-year-old Ospreys wing and former IRB Player of the Year was forced off with a hamstring injury during the first half of Saturday’s 33-12 defeat by Australia at the Millennium Stadium. On Monday night, the Wales management confirmed that he would be sidelined for four to six weeks, which could leave him in danger of missing the trip to Twickenham on February 6.

‘Shane has a grade two tear to his hamstring and will be out of action for four to six weeks undergoing treatment and rehab,’ said team physio Mark Davies.

The best-case scenario would see Williams return for his region’s crucial Heineken Cup clashes with Clermont Auvergne and Leicester in mid-January. But if he doesn’t play again until the end of the month, Wales coach Warren Gatland would have to decide whether to pitch him into the England game under-cooked.

Even more of a concern is Scarlets hooker Rees, who made such an impression during the Lions tour of South Africa in the summer. The 28-year-old left the Millennium Stadium pitch on a stretcher on Saturday and he is now facing the grim prospect of surgery on a groin tear.

I like to take people on and run from my own line and, if England do not agree with that style of rugby, I am not their man." England may not be playing well, but their two home matches in next year's Six Nations hospitalityare already sell-outs and all the hospitality for the first game, against Wales in February, have been taken. Australia and New Zealand are not so fortunate commercially and they will express their concerns about the stagnancy of the game on the field at this weekend's gathering of the International Rugby Board's general assembly in Dublin, followed by a meeting of the council.

There was better news of the other Welsh casualties. Captain Ryan Jones, who missed the match against the Wallabies because of back trouble, will be back in training with the Ospreys this week. Leigh Halfpenny has been allowed to join up with the Barbarians for their match against New Zealand on Saturday, although he is still having treatment for a dead leg.

The end of the autumn series led to another reshuffle of the IRB world rankings yesterday and Ireland’s status as Europe’s premier team was confirmed by a one-place rise to No 4, behind the big three southern hemisphere nations.

England had last weekend off and managed to climb back up to sixth position, courtesy of Wales’ slump to eighth on the back of their heavy home defeat. Martin Johnson quipped recently that he spends ‘about 0.03 per cent’ of his time thinking about the rankings, but in light of his team’s problems last month, the Red Rose manager should welcome this news as an unexpected bonus.

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Former Australia lock Justin Harrison, who resigned from Bath at the end of last season and admitted to recreational drug use, has signed for the ACT Brumbies. The 35-year-old is currently serving an eight-month ban for ‘actions which are prejudicial to the interests of the game’, but he will be free to play for the Canberra-based franchise - where his professional career began - from January 13.

Former Wales international Rhys Williams has been forced to retire from rugby with a serious knee injury. Williams won 44 caps for Wales at full back and wing and starred during the 2005 Six Nations rugby as Wales won their first Grand Slam for 27 years. The 29-year-old said: ‘I’m obviously massively disappointed but I hope in the future to look back on my rugby career and be proud of my achievements in the game.’

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