Rugby World Cup
No blame should lie at Gatland's door over Halfpenny injury
Tom Hamilton
September 8, 2015
Halfpenny and Webb were both stretchered off during Wales win over Italy © Getty Images

Warren Gatland could be forgiven if he takes solace in some of the great Hunter S. Thompson's wisdom: "Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it," he wrote in the author's note for Fear and Loathing in America.

Only Gatland knows whether he had second thoughts over whether to play Leigh Halfpenny against Italy. Only he knows whether he regrets keeping him on for 70 minutes only to see him get his foot caught in the turf and injure his ACL. But no blame should lie at Gatland's feet. He is never one to shy away from big calls - Brian O'Driscoll comes to mind - and injury is a risk when selecting any team. Coaches the world over must tread that mental injury tightrope before the game.

For all the talk of wrapping Leigh Halfpenny in 'cotton wool', had he not played against Italy then he would be going into their opener against Uruguay having not had any Test action for four weeks. If Wales had lost and Matthew Morgan was at fullback instead of Halfpenny, the knives would have come out for Gatland asking why he did not play their premier fullback. The attacks levelled at his feet come with that wonderful double-edged sword of hindsight. Had Halfpenny, complete with strapping on his knee - something he sported in their win in Dublin - come through the game then no one would have batted an eyelid. It just comes down to God awful luck. The same goes for Rhys Webb.

The World Cup is poorer without the two players. Halfpenny is world class and arguably the best place kicker on the planet while Webb is a box office scrum-half, the sort of player who keeps you on your toes and can bring you to your feet.

For Wales their focus will not be on their fallen comrades but instead on getting Liam Williams fit and working out who will be their first-choice scrum-half for the Uruguay match. Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams and Mike Phillips have 11 days to win the No.9 shirt.

Wales fans can also take heart from June 21, 2014. On that day neither Webb nor Halfpenny started against South Africa in Nelspruit. Though they lost to the Springboks, it was only down to a last-gasp penalty try and for 79 minutes, they were much the better team. All is not lost. That cruel mistress Lady Luck is not favouring Wales at the moment and they will fear the absence of the duo but that does not mean there should be loathing left at Gatland's door.

ESPN is proud to announce an exclusive 1-hour special - Cheika's Wallabies: Hope of a Nation - premiering on ESPN Weds Sept 9 at 9pm AEST (11pm NZ). ESPNscrum's leading rugby expert Greg Growden goes one-on-one with the Wallabies coach in this exclusive special that gives a rare insight into the intriguing personality of Australia's head coach.

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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.