Liam Williams unlikely to feature for Wales against New Zealand
Liam Williams looks set to be the latest in a long line of star players to be sidelined for Wales’ clash against New Zealand on Saturday.
The 71-cap British and Irish Lion underwent an appendix operation earlier this month.
Wales will be without England-based players like Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau and Louis Rees-Zammit because the autumn opener falls outside World Rugby’s international window and they are not released by their clubs.
Head coach Wayne Pivac also has a number of key personnel absent for the Principality Stadium encounter through injuries, with Williams’ fellow Lions George North, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric all currently out.
Alex Cuthbert has therefore been added to Wales’ squad. The 31-year-old former Exeter wing, who now plays for the Ospreys, won the last of his 47 caps against Georgia in 2017.
The Welsh Rugby Union said that Cuthbert, who has scored 16 tries for Wales, linked up with the squad on Monday.
Wales attack coach Stephen Jones said: “Liam is back training, which is great. He has not had many sessions this season, so we are trying to improve him with every session.
“He is working very hard because he wants to play and he wants to prove that. But we, as coaches and fitness coaches, understand where he is.
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"It would be an intriguing and timely plot twist given he was recently left out of Eddie Jones’ England squad."https://t.co/BW3VHVBfCT
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 25, 2021
“It is important that we remember that we’ve got more games in November, so we have to be clever with how we use Liam.
“In fairness, we are fully aware that it would be a big ask of Liam (to be fit for New Zealand), but he is doing everything he can to be available. He is ticking every box, but you do need some volume in the legs as well.”
Pivac’s main selection debates appear to be at centre, fly-half and openside flanker, with Wales having not beaten New Zealand since 1953 and lost the last 31 Tests – 16 of those in Cardiff – against them.
Midfield options appear to be two from three between Jonathan Davies, Willis Halaholo and Johnny Williams, with Gareth Anscombe or Rhys Priestland at fly-half, and the number seven shirt being contested by Ellis Jenkins and Taine Basham.
Anscombe has not played Test rugby since suffering a serious knee injury in August 2019, while Priestland, who joined Cardiff from Bath this summer, last represented his country four years ago – against New Zealand.
Jones added: “They are both training very well, and both those guys will be looking forward to getting back in the stadium in front of a full house, which is going to be special for all of us.
“Gareth is obviously a very knowledgeable player, he understands the game inside out and is very driven, which you have to be to have come back from an incredibly tough injury.
“It is a huge credit to his professionalism and his attitude. He has been excellent in training, he sets high standards and has been a pleasure to work with.
“Rhys’ decision-making has always been very good, he has always been smart on the ball. Regarding his kicking game, we know that is top-drawer.
“But, for me, it’s his decision-making on the ball and bringing others into play. Rhys has demonstrated that with Cardiff this year.”
“The name Vunipola comes up repeatedly at Bordeaux Bègles where Billy matches the profile sought to succeed Louis Picamoles."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 25, 2021
Former fly-half Jones won more than 100 Test caps, but in 14 games for Wales and the Lions against New Zealand, he was never a winner.
“I had some memorable games with Wales,” he said. “We had some tight games against them in the stadium that went to the wire.
“I remember very physical affairs, which is what you expect and enjoy.
“From my end, and I have played against them a number of times, you respect them for what they are – a very efficient rugby side.
“From a coach’s perspective, you break it down analytically and build a game-plan which you believe maximises what you have in your playing group.
“From our end, we have to make sure we bring our A game, a very accurate game and we have to be smart in how we play.”
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