Wales stalwart Sam Warburton will return from his injury sooner than expected to join the Welsh squad on their forthcoming tour of New Zealand and for their test matches against the world-beating All Blacks.
Warburton has led the men in red rugby shirts no fewer than 40 times, so his experience will be invaluable to the squad and to coach Warren Gatland as he returns to face his home nation.
Gatland was fortunate with Warburton’s faster-than-expected recovery to be able to name him as skipper for the 35-man squad for the upcoming trip Down Under.
Warburton has not played since injuring his shoulder playing for his club side, Cardiff Blues, against the Ospreys on 30th April.
Other Injury Concerns
Gatland has had to leave out full-back Leigh Halfpenny from his squad as the Toulon player has not shown enough progress following his injury to be ready in time. Depending on how his recovery progresses, Halfpenny could be considered as an injury cover reserve, ready for a call up if he is able to get back to fitness in time and return for Toulon. Game time will be key for Halfpenny following the knee surgery he had after sustaining an injury playing for his country against Italy way back on 5th September.
In better news for the second row, Alun Wyn Jones appears to be ready to return and is being included in the squad. He had been out since his injury in the Six Nations defeat against England on 12 March.
Open-side flanker Justin Tipuric is also a big doubt, although Gatland has opted not to include a direct replacement for him. Josh Turnbull, James King and Ross Moriarty are included in the squad as back row cover over James Davies and Ellis Jenkins, whose names were touted by others. For Davies, being omitted from the Wales squad means that he could be available to represent Great Britain in this summer’s Olympics in Brazil if he is selected.
Wales will play England again in a warmup match on 29th May before they jet off for their three-Test tour against the All Blacks next month, and Gatland is hoping that Jones will get some game time during that match so he is not completely raw going into the first Test.
The Wales coach has opted for experience in the squad he has chosen, knowing that it has been 26 encounters – and 26 defeats for Wales – since Wales last beat the All Blacks, who are the current World Cup holders. Wales was last victorious back in 1953.
Gatland sees the tour of New Zealand as a great opportunity for the team to build on recent successes and momentum after the recent Six Nations tournament and last year’s World Cup.
Time will tell how the summer pans out for Wales, but there will certainly be no shortage of effort and commitment from the men in the red rugby shirts.