Wales assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys has expressed sympathy for Leigh Halfpenny after the full-back’s injury jinx struck again.
Halfpenny was due to win his 98th cap and make a first Wales start for 19 months in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Principality Stadium.
But the 34-year-old has been ruled out after suffering a back spasm and will be replaced by Cardiff’s Liam Williams.
Halfpenny has not started for Wales since he suffered a serious knee injury playing against Canada in July 2021.
He was due to feature against New Zealand during this season’s Autumn Nations Series but withdrew 24 hours before kick-off because of a hamstring problem. A back spasm then meant he missed Wales’ appointment with Australia in Cardiff three weeks later.
“I think it’s more disappointing for Leigh as a person,” Humphreys said. “He is an unbelievable professional and an unbelievable person.
“He has got to pick himself up again. You feel for him that he’s got to pull out at this late stage.”
Williams missed Wales’ entire autumn campaign because of injury and has not started for his country since last summer’s South Africa tour. He has only played 180 minutes of rugby this season.
But with 81 Wales caps under his belt and five British and Irish Lions Test match appearances, Williams’ quality is unquestioned.
But they must also somehow find a way of stopping a team ranked world number one following victories over New Zealand, twice, South Africa and Australia last year.
Humphreys added: “‘Gats’ has got tons of experience. He knows what he wants and to get coaches on the same page, how to go about tackling the best team in the world right now.
“We are about playing what is in front of us. I think that is key to any team.
“We have got to be very combative and very physical. If you are not against these, they can put you away very easy.”
Lock Adam Beard, who is among six Ospreys forwards in the Wales pack, accepts the physical battle will be key.
“Make no bones about it, we are going to push them (at) set-piece time and we are going to go for them at the set-piece. We are looking forward to the confrontational battle,” Beard said.
“He (Gatland) does a lot on emotions, and he is great at getting the guys up for a Test week.
“There are a lot of boys on edge around him because they just want to raise the bar and impress him.
“That is great for the squad because it brings competition for places. It has been a great week of preparation.”
Humphreys, meanwhile, was asked for his view on choirs being told not to sing the Sir Tom Jones hit ‘Delilah’ during their performances on rugby international matchdays at the Principality Stadium.
The song’s lyrics include reference to a woman being murdered by her jealous partner.
The Welsh Rugby Union – the governing body which has recently been hit by sexism and discrimination allegations – took the song off its half-time entertainment and music playlist during Test matches in 2015.
Humphreys said: “Look, the atmosphere in that stadium is incredible no matter what they sing. They can sing the phone book, it doesn’t matter.
“Growing up as a kid in the old stadium there are many, many songs that resonate with me. If they can’t sing that, then there are plenty of others they can sing.”