Warren Gatland has defended his decision to play Leigh Halfpenny in Wales’ final World Cup warm-up game against Italy.
British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny suffered a serious knee injury in the closing minutes of the 23-19 victory in Cardiff on Saturday and was ruled out of the World Cup on Monday.
Wales legend Shane Williams questioned Gatland’s decision to play Halfpenny given the goal-kicker’s importance to the national team, saying the 26-year-old should have been wrapped up in cotton wool ahead of the tournament.
But Wales head coach Gatland, speaking at a press conference where it was revealed the Millennium Stadium would be renamed Principality Stadium, said the strapping on Halfpenny’s knee was not related to the separate injury which was to rule him out of the World Cup.
“There was more than one player out there with strapping,” said Gatland, who on Tuesday also lost first-choice scrum-half Rhys Webb for the tournament with a foot injury.
“Half-a-dozen players or probably more than that get strapped up before every game.
“Leigh had that strapping on before the game in Dublin. It’s something he’d had there for the last three weeks and used it when he was kicking.
“It was nothing to do with the injury that he picked up on the weekend. And it wasn’t heavy strapping, it was very light strapping. I checked that out with the physios.
“I know there has been some criticism about protecting players and you always question yourself about that.
“It’s just trying to get the balance right between players having enough rugby and keeping players fresh.
Gatland has called veteran scrum-half Mike Phillips and Ospreys wing Eli Walker into the squad to cover the absences of Halfpenny and Webb but he expressed disappointment at losing two key players on the eve of the tournament.
“You’ve got to feel for them,” Gatland said.
“They worked so hard and to get injured in the last warm-up game and to be ruled out of the World Cup is devastating for the two lads.
“The players are going to be disappointed for both Leigh and Rhys, but professional sport is about accepting those disappointments and moving on and preparing for the tournament.”