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Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

Williams return eases Gatland's burden

By Gareth Roberts
BBC Sport Wales

Martyn Williams and Gethin Jenkins take on the Ospreys
Martyn Williams and Gethin Jenkins have made welcome returns to action after shoulder surgery

As he slipped effortlessly down the narrowest of blindside gaps before sending Gareth Cooper over for his stunning try as Cardiff Blues beat the Ospreys 20-12 on Saturday, Martyn Williams effectively settled two issues.

He put Saturday's sometimes scrappy yet often enthralling Welsh Magners League Welsh derby out of the Ospreys reach within a minute of the break.

And in the process Williams ensured Wales coach Warren Gatland, his coaching staff and the rest of the nation's supporters will sleep just a little easier as they contemplate facing New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on 7 November.

The debate about who should succeed Williams can be put off to another day. As hard and skilfully as he worked for his man-of-the-match display as the Scarlets saw off Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night, Dafydd Jones' performances was simply overshadowed a day later by the man they call Nuggett.

Williams had been out of action since the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, undergoing a similar shoulder operation that meant his Blues and Wales colleague Gethin Jenkins returning in the previous weekend's Heineken Cup defeat at Sale.

At times Williams was sublime against the Ospreys, who may have rested several front-line stars for the start, but who still fielded a back-row that included ex-New Zealand All Black Jerry Collins from the start.

And in the second-half the Ospreys sent Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas into their back-row mix. So just as Williams could have been expected to start tiring he had some fresh and very powerful legs to contend with.


But contend with them he did, making his place in the November Tests' squad Gatland announced on Sunday a dead cert.

Williams' contribution was not the only one that will have pleased Gatland. After some below-par performances Blues centre Jamie Roberts and Ospreys prop Duncan Jones rose to the occasion, although the latter's exit with a calf strain could yet prove problematic.

Scrum-half Gareth Cooper also raised his game after a disappointing start to his Blues career, lifting some of the Welsh gloom over Mike Phillips' injury and Dwayne Peel's possible absence from the All Blacks' clash due to cross-border red tape and rugby politics.

However, unless the issue between the Welsh Rugby Union and the English clubs' umbrella body, Premier Rugby, is settled Wales could be in trouble at tight-head prop against New Zealand.

On form Sale prop Eifion Lewis-Roberts was the outstanding candidate to fill injured Adam Jones' boots but Gatland has opted to choose from Gethin Jenkins, Paul James and with Craig Mitchell.

Matthew Rees
Matthew Rees emerged as the British Isles' top hooker in South Africa

Elsewhere, Gatland has fewer problems to ponder. Matthew Rees' emergence as the best hooker in the British Isles in South Africa makes him the obvious first choice.

Gareth Williams' man-of-the-match display for the Blues against the Ospreys was a timely reminder of his abilities while the added power of Ian Gough in the visitors' scrum helped them overcome some early-season troubles in that area.

But those showings were not good enough for Gatland and his coaching team who have left Gough and Williams to one side in favour of Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris and Jonathan Thomas.

Stephen Jones is assured of the Wales number 10 jersey while the Blues' Roberts-Shanklin centre partnership could come under threat if Gatland wants Hook's play-making skills at his disposal.

Hook or Roberts could also fill in at full-back in injured Lee Byrne's absence. In powerhouse Roberts' case that could give Gatland the option of fielding the diminutive, dynamic duo of Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny on the wings.

Williams is a shoe-in while at full-back the Ospreys' summer recruit from Brive Barry Davies must be disappointed at not being able to convince those who matter of his merits at full-back.


Backs: Dan Biggar, James Hook, Shane Williams (Ospreys); Gareth Cooper, Jamie Roberts, Tom Shanklin, Tom James, Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Martin Roberts, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Davies, Mark Jones (Scarlets); Dwayne Peel (Sale).

Forwards: Paul James, Duncan Jones, Craig Mitchell, Huw Bennett, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Sam Warburton, Martyn Williams (Blues); Matthew Rees, Dafydd Jones (Scarlets); Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate (Dragons).

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see also
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