- Wales beat Italy 23-19 in Cardiff on Saturday but the match was overshadowed by injuries to Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny
- They were both carried off the pitch while being given oxygen
- Coach Warren Gatland’s has urged his players to not read the newspapers
- Rugby World Cup 2015: CLICK HERE for all the latest news and more
Nik Simon for the Daily Mail
The irony of Wales’ horror show at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday night was that Sam Warburton had to step up and collect a trophy.
Never has a piece of silverware felt so hollow for the skipper, who looked on in disbelief as Rhys Webb and then Leigh Halfpenny were both carried off the pitch while being given oxygen.
Coach Warren Gatland’s message to his players was to not read the newspapers. The headlines glossed over the abject victory over Italy, which boiled down a mere irrelevance, and pointed straight to the fact that two serious body blows had shot his World Cup preparations to pieces.
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Scrum-half Rhys Webb went down in the first half after suffering a suspected broken left ankle
The influential 26-year-old left the pitch on a stretcher and is a doubt for the upcoming World Cup
‘Everyone knows it was a bit of a disastrous day,’ said fly-half Dan Biggar. ‘We are going to have to do it the hard way now but we have a lot of character in the squad and a fair few winners.
‘We are going to have to call on all that experience and to do something special. We are a team that when we have our backs against the wall come out swinging. As a team, we are quite used to people writing us off.’
The Welsh medical staff are yet to send out the official word that Webb and Halfpenny’s World Cups are over but they are bracing themselves for the worst as they await the results of scans.
Days after picking up his Player of the Year award and outlining his ambition to become ‘the best in the world’, scrum-half Webb was tweeting from a hospital bed as he received ‘morphine and a scrub off the nurses’. ‘Good start to a glorious Sunday morning,’ he added.
Leigh Halfpenny suffered an injury to his right knee in the 70th minute and needed oxygen treatment
Webb’s cries of agony were picked up over the referee’s microphone as his left leg buckled under the weight of a ruck, leaving serious ankle damage.
Veteran No 9 Mike Phillips is likely to be called up as cover and fulfil his ambition of playing 100 Tests for Wales, with back-ups Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams offering limited experience.
It seemed almost incomprehensible that Wales’ final World Cup warm-up could get any worse after Webb’s injury but it did. Shortly after kicking his 500th point for Wales, full back Halfpenny’s right knee buckled as he innocuously changed direction on the run.
The early fears are that Halfpenny — whose goal-kicking has been instrumental to Wales in recent years — has suffered cruciate ligament damage, with Kiwi-import Gareth Anscombe and exiled James Hook among the potential replacements.
Toulon full-back Halfpenny’s right knee buckled as he innocuously changed direction on the run
‘If Leigh is out injured I will probably step up to kick,’ said Biggar. ‘I like to goal-kick but the quality of Leigh speaks for itself. There is no one in the game who works as hard as him.’
Halfpenny’s absence at full-back will open the door for Liam Williams, who offers more of an attacking edge than the Lions star.
The news left a numb feeling around the stadium but Italy coach Jacques Brunel lightened the mood by claiming he would still bet £10 on Wales qualifying from the Group of Death.
‘It is a typical day in a Welsh rugby player’s life,’ said Biggar. ‘When things don’t go quite so well, you have to take it on the chin.
Warren Gatland looks on during the narrow victory over Italy which saw the loss of two of Wales’ starters
‘We need to remain positive because we won last week in Dublin against Ireland, who had not lost at home for 15 months, and won back-to-back Six Nations. Our focus now is on Uruguay and leading into the game against England.’
With centre Jonathan Davies already ruled out, Wales are painfully thin on the ground across their backline. Gatland claimed losing Webb and Halfpenny would be a ‘massive blow’.
Without them, Wales would arrive at the World Cup as underdogs to England and Australia although, scratching for positives, that could at least create a siege mentality in the wounded camp.
‘We spoke in the changing rooms afterwards and some players have to take a close look at their performance,’ said Gatland. ‘But we are pretty good at not letting negativity get to us. People know when we turn up at Twickenham fully loaded we will be a different proposition.’
Gatland looks set to summon World Cup replacements this week after being hit by the double blow
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