WALES coach Warren Gatland could field a team containing just eight survivors from the World Cup quarter- final win against Ireland in Sunday’s RBS Six Nations opener.
Gatland has seen preparations for the Dublin clash badly affected by injuries.
Three members of the pack that helped brush Ireland aside in Wellington four months ago – injured trio Gethin Jenkins, Alun- Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris – will be sidelined for varying time periods during the tournament.
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Hookers Matthew Rees (calf strain) and Lloyd Burns (neck) are also absent, while Gatland will confirm today whether three other players have won their fitness battles.
Gatland delayed his scheduled team announcement by 48 hours after deciding to give centre Jamie Roberts, fly-half Rhys Priestland and flanker Dan Lydiate as much recovery time as possible.
Roberts has not played since suffering a knee injury two days before Christmas, while Scarlets star Priestland went off during a Heineken Cup game in Castres last month and Lydiate has been nursing ankle trouble.
In the final shake-up, it could be that Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Mike Phillips, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau are the only players who reappear on starting duty from Wellington.
Uncapped 21-year-old Ospreys centre Ashley Beck has emerged as a strong contender to replace Roberts, with James Hook the probable replacement for Priestland and Ryan Jones the leading candidate as Lydiate’s deputy.
Added to the injury situation is a statistic showing just two Six Nations victories for Wales from six Dublin visits, which highlights their degree of difficulty in terms of securing a winning start.
“Ireland will throw everything at us – their provinces have been playing well in the Heineken Cup and Rabo Direct Pro12,” Scarlets’ wing said.
“As a team we did put a marker down at the World Cup, but we want to push on from there and progress.”