Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Wellington - Wales may turn to an unheralded rookie in Rhys Priestland in their attempt to counter the Springboks this weekend in their Rugby World Cup opener in Wellington.
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With veteran flyhalf Stephen Jones struggling to overcome a calf injury and fullback Lee Byrne not in great form, 24-year old Priestland has become the favourite to play against the Boks at either flyhalf or fullback.
At the moment the smart money is on the Scarlets flyhalf taking the fullback spot, with James Hook stepping in for Jones at flyhalf, but the roles could also well be reversed with Hook moving to fullback.
Either way the injury to Jones is becoming a major headache for coach Warren Gatland, who has been talking up his side’s chances all week.
Jones missed both the warm-up games against England and Argentina, and has been struggling with the calf injury for five weeks now, making it a realistic gamble even if he is passed fit.
According to team sources, he was to return to training on Wednesday, but no indication was given whether or not he attended the closed training session, with the Welsh preferring to leave the Boks to steam in their discomfort.
Priestland, who made his debut against Scotland earlier this year, has just four caps at the moment and would by his own inexperience become a Bok target during the game.
Still, there was no all clear for Jones, nor his namesake Ryan who has been training with the squad again. The fate of Gethin Jenkins also looks unclear, and the prop is not expected to start the game.
Team forwards coach Robin McBryde believes that Ryan Jones will be cleared to play, but gave little away when it came to the others.
“Gethin Jenkins we know about him, but Ryan has taken full part in training. Steve is still progressing, so it is still early days,” McBryde said, adding that there was still healthy competition for places in the Welsh squad.
“ As I said earlier the competition for places is still quite competitive, just having 30 players here hasn’t taken away from that competitiveness. They keep asking questions of each other in training sessions which is very positive for us as a coaching team.”
Wales look set to name their side only on Friday, giving their injured stars as much time as possible to recover.