Wales coach Gareth Jenkins today named his 41-man preliminary Rugby World Cup 2007 summer training squad and predicted that cutting the group to just 30 players by the 14th August RWC deadline will be the hardest selection decision of his career.
Jenkins has merged his Australian tour party with the members of the summer training camp who remained in Wales for rest, recuperation and conditioning work to form a penultimate squad of 19 backs and 22 forwards before the final World Cup cut.
The current group will next train together as one unit at the end of June – when the Australian tourists return from a three week break – and will embark on a week-long training camp in Nantes from 21st July.
They then form the Wales side travelling to Twickenham to take on England on 4th August before Jenkins trims his troops to 30 in advance of clashes with Argentina and France in the Invesco Perpetual Summer Series at the Millennium Stadium on 18th and 26th August.
“We have approached the year in the lead up to Rugby World Cup in three specific blocks with a view to creating a real selection headache come 14th August,” said Jenkins.
“We took a young group of players on tour to Argentina last summer which paid dividends and unearthed some real talent in key areas.
“We then worked with a chosen group through the Autumn Series and Six Nations competitions and asked all the questions necessary of that group.
“The summer tour to Australia then allowed a third group of players to stake their claims for selection resulting in some tough decisions for us to make as a management group and some even tougher calls to come.
“But these are the kinds of selection dilemmas you need as a coach and we are in exactly the position we set out to achieve at the start of it all – with strength in depth and excellent competition for places.
“I’ve no doubt that trimming this group of players down to a 30-man Rugby World Cup squad will be the hardest selection decision I’ve ever had to make as a coach – but it’s a challenge I relish.”
Jenkins has named two uncapped players in the squad – 30-year-old Gloucester specialist second row Will James and Cardiff Blues wing Thomas James, who impressed on the training pitch as a tourist in Australia.
Lock James, who has also played Heineken Cup rugby for Pontypridd, has been under Jenkins’ watchful eye whilst plying his trade in the English Premiership.
Scarlets centre Gavin Evans (shoulder) and Dragons prop Rhys Thomas (ankle) both get the opportunity to stake their claims and add to solitary caps after returning from injuries which kept them out of the summer tour – as does veteran wing Dafydd James who has also recovered from injury.
“Will is someone we have been keeping an eye on and we felt the time was right for us to have a closer look at him,” added Jenkins.
“There are players in this squad who have forced themselves into contention after stepping up to the task presented to them in Australia and there are a couple of people who still need the opportunity to show us what they have to offer.
“We will be fine-tuning our selection over the coming weeks and are confident we have the breadth of talent and ability within this squad to come out with a team to be competitive against any World Cup opponent.
“We are developing a group of leaders within the squad and will look at the captaincy in closer detail when the final 30 is announced.
“We are going to need more than one leader on the pitch over the course of the tournament, as well as during the coming summer series and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable candidates for the job.”
BACKS: Aled Brew, Lee Byrne, Gareth Cooper, Gavin Evans, Gavin Henson, James Hook, Dafydd James, Thomas James, Mark Jones, Stephen Jones, Kevin Morgan, Sonny Parker, Dwayne Peel, Mike Phillips, Jamie Robinson, Tom Shanklin, Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Thomas, Shane Williams.
FORWARDS: Huw Bennett, Colin Charvis, Ian Evans, Ian Gough, Richard Hibbard, Chris Horsman, Will James, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Duncan Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones, Michael Owen, Alix Popham, Matthew Rees, Rob Sidoli, Gavin Thomas, Iestyn Thomas, Jonathan Thomas, Rhys Thomas, T Rhys Thomas, Martyn Williams.