Wales v England, Six Nations Championship, February 14
Williams ruled out of England clash
February 13, 2009
Shane Williams has been ruled out of Wales' Six Nations clash with England © Getty Images
Wales have suffered a huge blow ahead of tomorrow's Six Nations clash with England at the Millennium Stadium with the news that talismanic wing Shane Williams has failed a fitness test on his injured ankle.
Ospreys wing Williams, Wales' leading try-scorer with 45 in 62 Tests, suffered the injury during Wales' win over Scotland last weekend, when he was again on the score-sheet. Williams' place is taken by Scarlets wing Mark Jones, who wins his 44th cap after recently recovering from a bout of appendicitis.
Wales coach Warren Gatland had originally named Williams on the wing for the game despite the prognosis for the injury making him a "50-50" call to be fit, citing him as the side's "talisman". He now joins his fellow Osprey Gavin Henson, out with a calf strain, on the injury list.
Wales attack coach Rob Howley admitted the loss of Williams was a blow but said there were no concerns about his fitness for the third game of the Six Nations campaign - against France in Paris on February 27.
"We gave Shane every opportunity to be fit, which shows the respect we have for him," said Howley. "He worked with the physios and the medical team, but he is not 100%. We all know what the Test area asks of you, physically.
"We are comfortable with Mark coming in. He has never let us down, and he was outstanding against Australia in the autumn. We are confident going into the game, but we know it will be a formidable challenge. For us, it is about being accurate and taking our opportunities. We have to be good enough when opportunities come our way."
Wales might be firm favourites to record an eighth Six Nations success in a row against all opponents this weekend - but lock Alun-Wyn Jones insists the reigning champions must tread carefully.
"People can write and talk about England, but when you play England you know you are playing against a formidable side that does the basics well," he said. "It's for other people to make the hype surrounding this game. I've got a lot of respect for the players within the England camp, but my sole focus is about representing my country to the best of my ability.
"Each game is its own entity. We've got to expect England to be very confrontational, then try and stem the tide in the first-half, as we did against Scotland last weekend. Things haven't gone well for them in recent games, but sport is a fickle thing and anybody can win on the day."
England are expected to rely on their forward power and set-piece strength as key ingredients for what would be only a fourth win from their last 11 Six Nations away fixtures. And Jones will be at the heart of Welsh attempts to prevent England dominating, notably the lineout contest against England captain Steve Borthwick and his second-row partner Nick Kennedy.
He admitted: "It's going to be quite a heavy battle up front. Each set-piece is going to be a game of chess. It's going to be a mental battle, as well as a physical one. Steve Borthwick's record speaks for itself. He's probably done more lineouts than I've had cooked dinners!
"He's a great lineout forward and a great lineout co-ordinator, so it is going to be a very difficult task."
Revised Wales team to face England at the Millennium Stadium:
L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), M Jones (Scarlets); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys).