Injuries add to Wales' insult

Walking-wounded Welsh sweat on fitness of key performers

By Elliot Ball.   Last Updated: 29/11/09 1:46pm

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Phillips: Doubtful for England Six Nations clash in February

Phillips: Doubtful for England Six Nations clash in February

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Wales are licking their wounds after seeing more stars pick up injuries after the defeat to Australia on Saturday.

The 2008 RBS 6 Nations champions are light on the ground after seeing three regulars fall by the wayside in their final autumn international that saw them drubbed 33-12 by the Wallabies.

Wales boss Warren Gatland already has the blow that scrum-half Mike Phillips is struggling to overcome an ankle ligament ailment which kept him out of the last three internationals and looks unlikely to be fit for the 6 Nations opener against England on February 6.

And Gatland is now sweating on the fitness of fellow British and Irish Lions star Matthew Rees, who is also a concern for the Twickenham showdown after suffering a suspected torn groin muscle.

Rees was stretchered off during the first-half against Australia and the Scarlets hooker left the Millennium Stadium changing rooms on crutches and is set to undergo a scan on Sunday.

Wing Shane Williams also faced a scan following his fifth-minute exit due to hamstring trouble, while a third first-half casualty - Williams' fellow wing Leigh Halfpenny - received a dead leg.

Good news

The good news on the injury front for Gatland is that two more Lions - full-back Lee Byrne and prop Adam Jones - appear on course to face England.

Byrne is expected back early in the New Year following a foot injury that has sidelined him from Test rugby since this summer's Lions tour.

And tighthead prop Jones - the player Wales missed more than any other during their autumn internationals - is targeting a probable comeback from shoulder surgery around Christmas.

Jones could play for the Ospreys against Heineken Cup opponents Viadana on December 19, but a more likely return date is a Boxing Day Magners League appointment with the Scarlets.

Highlight

There was precious little cheer to emerge for Gatland during the Wallabies debacle but one highlight was provided flanker Sam Warburton.

The 21-year-old Cardiff Blues player produced a quality 30-minute display off the bench confirmed his status as heir-apparent to openside star Martyn Williams after the 2011 World Cup.

Warburton was only drafted into the match-day 22 on Friday when Wales captain Ryan Jones pulled out because of a back injury, but he showcased his ability, despite Australia's dominance.

"The coaches want the subs to make an impact, to go flat out and play 30 minutes of the hardest rugby in your life," said Warburton.

"It was the hardest 30 minutes I've played. It is totally different playing at this level - the pace and physicality of it.

"I didn't expect it to be such a step-up, to be honest. It has made me realise that I have to go back and train even harder."

As for the game, Warburton added: "We can't use the excuse that we had players missing. It has given us a kick up the backside, and we have to work even harder come the Six Nations.

"We were pretty optimistic we could have done a job on Australia, but in fairness, they were really good.

"The coaches had a couple of things to say afterwards - in a nutshell, we have to work harder than we have done and we have to raise the intensity again."

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