Wales have suffered a scare before their Six Nations showdown with England on Saturday with Leigh Halfpenny sitting out Friday’s captain’s run due to illness. Wales will continue to monitor the fullback and there was a degree of confidence within the camp that Halfpenny will recover but it has left Warren Gatland sweating on one of his key men before the Twickenham clash.
Halfpenny was among the standout performers in last weekend’s 34-7 victory over Scotland, amassing 24 points and scoring two tries and if he were to miss out, Rhys Patchell, who was singled out by Eddie Jones on Thursday, would most likely take over kicking duties. Gareth Anscombe would be in pole position to replace Halfpenny in the starting XV.
It is an untimely headache for Gatland on a day when Alun Wyn Jones greeted the England head coach’s attempts to rile Wales before their trip to Twickenham with a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of humour. The Wales captain responded by revealing he will have a quiet word with his namesake after the match. “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, I’ll have to have a chat with Uncle Eddie after the game.”
The Wales captain’s conduct during his side’s victory over Scotland last weekend was also questioned by Jones on Thursday, specifically about urging the referee, Pascal Gaüzère, to review Peter Horne’s consolation try and preventing Finn Russell from taking a quick conversion.
World Rugby has confirmed that it was contacted by England but exonerated Wyn Jones on the basis that Gaüzère had already opened dialogue with the TMO. The Wales captain expressed his gratitude that he had been cleared but resisted any temptation to return fire. “My parents have been saying [I’m out of order] for many years, and I am married now so it is just like being at home,” he said. “In all seriousness I am very grateful he flagged it up – if someone is unsure, it is important we get clarity. I don’t know if there’s an element of deflection but ultimately as players that kind of stuff goes on outside the tent. We’re inside the tent and we need to deal with what goes on inside the white lines.
“It was more important that World Rugby, when they were asked for clarification, came back and essentially said that they saw nothing untoward. More importantly, Pascal at the time, had no issue, or no issue after the game. I’m very grateful that Eddie has flagged that up with World Rugby. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and keep within the spirit of the game.”
Eddie Jones went as far as to suggest Patchell’s team-mates would have concerns over their fly-half but the Wales captain gave that particular barb short shrift. “People forget that Rhys Patchell has been round the squad for a good few years. It is a step up, no one would deny that, playing away against England at Twickenham, but Patch is ready.”
Asked if Eddie Jones’s comments over Patchell were insulting, the Wales captain added: “No not at all. Irrelevant of how much experience you have or haven’t got, those questions are going to be asked.”
The England assistant coach, Neal Hatley, meanwhile insisted that his side were within their rights to question Alun Wyn Jones’s conduct and does not believe Eddie Jones’s verbal attack will backfire. “It is common place to highlight individual players and Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones are key players for them and it’s been happening for ages in Test rugby,” he said. “For us it as about highlighting their key players and we would be silly not to think they have those sort of personnel. That is all Eddie is doing.
“I don’t think it is necessarily winding up – we are highlighting key players. I am sure in their camp they are saying they need to get to [George] Ford or [Owen] Farrell or stop Courtney [Lawes] or Maro [Itoje].”