Fullback Liam Williams can help put the smile back onto Welsh fans' faces against Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Wales were dealt a devastating blow when Leigh Halfpenny ruptured knee ligaments during the warm-up Test against Italy, which ruled him out of the World Cup. The 65-Test fullback is regarded as the world's best goal-kicker, while he is defensively sound and solid under the high ball.
Former England scrumhalf Matt Dawson said the loss of Halfpenny would be 'fatal' to Wales' World Cup hopes, but another England No 9, Austin Healey, believes Wales could actually pose a greater attacking threat without him at fullback. That's because Halfpenny's replacement, the 1.88m and 87kg Liam Williams, is stronger with ball in hand and hits the line with greater speed and intent.
The 24-year-old missed Wales' warm-up matches because of a foot injury but is back to full fitness, and now has the chance to make his mark on the biggest stage.
The absence of Halfpenny, scrumhalf Rhys Webb and centre Jonathan Davies due to injury has seen many write off Wales' chances of escaping the Pool of Death. Coach Warren Gatland has asked the media to continue doing so, as he believes Wales are at their most dangerous when regarded as underdogs.
A convincing win against Uruguay, who Wales have never played before, would certainly bring back some of the feel-good factor that was generated by the World Cup warm-up win against Ireland in Dublin, even if Los Teros are ranked 19th in the world.
WILLIAMS'S STATS THAT MATTER
23 – Tests caps
18 – Test starts
5 – Test tries scored
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting in Test rugby
Wales – 15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ross Moriarty, 22 Lloyd Williams, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images