Wales head coach Warren Gatland suffered an unwelcome scare on the eve of the Six Nations clash with reigning champions England after Leigh Halfpenny sat out training with illness, though the head coach is confident that the British and Irish Lions full-back will recover in time to take his place in the starting line-up come Saturday evening.
Halfpenny is hugely important to Wales’ game plan and not just for his reliable goal-kicking, with the Scarlets back silencing his critics last weekend with two tries in the 34-7 victory over Scotland. On top of that, Wales are already without Liam Williams in the back three while George North is not yet fit to start – having been named among the replacements for Saturday’s encounter – and the loss of the seventh Lions would be a major setback for Gatland, given he is already without Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies and Williams.
Wales have Ospreys centre Owen Watkin with them in London, and should Halfpenny be ruled ahead on Saturday, Gareth Anscombe is likely to take his place at full-back with Watkin returning to the bench, having been dropped to accommodate the returning North. Lock Adam Beard is also with the squad as cover, though Gatland is likely to bring in a back to cover Halfpenny’s absence.
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Starting fly-half Rhys Patchell also has experience in the No 15 shirt, with two of his four test starts coming in the position against New Zealand in 2016, and Gatland could consider moving the Scarlets half-back to cover Halfpenny and bring Cardiff Blues No 10 Anscombe in to partner Gareth Davies, should he choose to do so.
But as of Friday night, the Wales camp was confident that Halfpenny will recover in time to take his place against England, and they will have until an hour before kick-off to make a decision over his fitness when the deadline for the confirmed team line-ups is reached.