Charteris back in the Wales mix
March 5, 2012
Luke Charteris could play a part against Italy © Getty Images
Welsh lock Luke Charteris is in the mix for a place in the squad for their match with Italy at the weekend after linking up with the rest of the team in training.
Less than a fortnight after Ospreys lock Alun-Wyn Jones returned to Test action from injury, his World Cup second-row partner Charteris could now join him. But centre Jamie Roberts is fighting what appears to be a losing fitness battle ahead of the Azzurri encounter.
Charteris has officially joined Wales' Six Nations training squad after making his comeback from a serious wrist injury for Newport Gwent Dragons against Munster two days ago. And the 6ft 9in forward might now feature in Wales' penultimate Six Nations fixture this season, when victory would leave them needing one more win - against France on March 17 - for the title and the Grand Slam.
"We've said throughout the competition about strength in depth in terms of selection," Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said. "Luke was a huge part of our World Cup success, and to see him back is great. It's nice to have another option, a selection issue, with Luke coming back.
"He acquitted himself very well for the Dragons against Munster. He will be very pleased to have got through that first game - it is always a nervous occasion when you have been out for a period of time."
Charteris had not played since the World Cup after undergoing wrist surgery, but Howley added: "Luke is not here to make up numbers - it would be a disservice to be saying that. He is here to be selected, and it is good to have him back."
The news on Roberts, though, does not appear promising after he went off at half-time against England at Twickenham nine days ago.
"We are still not too sure about Jamie," Howley said. "He has to come through training today and tomorrow. Jamie, at the moment, is probably the only doubt."
Scott Williams, Wales' try-scoring matchwinner in the 19-12 victory over England, is favourite to replace Roberts alongside Jonathan Davies in midfield should a change be required. Howley, though, has also put forward the credentials of uncapped Ospreys centre Ashley Beck, but another possible option - Gavin Henson - has had a calf strain and flu. Coach Warren Gatland will name his starting line-up tomorrow.
"Scott Williams and Ashley Beck have trained very well," Howley said. "Scott made a huge impression when he went on against England, and Ashley Beck has been one of the form centres in Wales. If Jamie doesn't come through, Scott or Ashley will have that opportunity.
"We will pick our strongest available side, without a shadow of doubt. We respect Italy, and we know it is going to be a hard game, so we need to pick our strongest side."
Italy are not expected to seriously threaten a try-hungry Wales team that has already won the Triple Crown and is closing in on further Six Nations silverware. Although the Azzurri have beaten Wales twice in Rome, their Six Nations record at the Millennium Stadium shows five defeats and one draw, with an average scoreline of 39-14 against them.
"Italy next Saturday is all that counts for us," Howley added. "We've never had an easy game against Italy in the four years I have been involved (as a coach). They have always scored between 10 and 15 points against us, and there is always a stage against them when you are under the pump.
"They will be hurting from their result over in Ireland (Italy lost 42-10). It's never easy when you play against a side that has lost its previous game, so we are just mindful of what Italy can bring to the table."
Wales will have the title within touching distance if they comprehensively defeat Italy and England topple France in Paris 24 hours later, but Howley said: "It is about us getting our house in order, really.
"We have got through a tricky three games, and we have got two home games to go. We are in good shape, but we realise the enormity of the task next Saturday afternoon. We can control what happens at the Millennium Stadium. It is in our hands. Whatever happens between England and France next Sunday, we will take stock of that as and when it happens."
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