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'World-class' Williams is vital

Martyn Williams has made a successful return after shoulder surgery
Martyn Williams has made a successful return after shoulder surgery

Former Wales and Lions scrum-half Robert Jones says it is a huge boost that flanker Martyn Williams is back fit in time for the autumn Tests.

Williams suffered a shoulder injury on the Lions' recent tour to South Africa.

But the 34-year-old showed he has recovered fully in the Blues' derby win over the Ospreys and was named in coach Warren Gatland's Wales squad on Sunday.

"He's been out for a little while but he came in and seemed to have settled in immediately," Jones told BBC Wales.

"He played the full game, he played 80 minutes, so he looks as if he's probably going to secure that number seven shirt.

"Dafydd Jones down at the Scarlets has played very well and could well figure in the back-row.

"But as an out-and-out seven, a very good footballer - probably the best footballing back-row forward in world rugby - Martyn's presence is one which Warren Gatland is... delighted he has."

Wales' first opponents are New Zealand on 7 November, followed by Samoa, Argentina and Australia on successive weekends.

Scrum V analyses Wales squad

"This side is developing, Warren Gatland wants them to play the best in the world on a regular basis and the autumn internationals provide us with that," Jones added.

"So it's an opportunity to go out and prove where we are in world terms and probably how well we've developed over the last few years."

While Jones is delighted that Williams is back for the internationals, he is concerned that Gatland might have left himself short in some positions.

"It's surprising they've only gone for two hookers, I thought Ken Owens' form this year perhaps deserved a chance," Jones said.

"Obviously Huw Bennett and Matthew Rees are two very good players.

"But when you're talking about four international matches, the norm is that you have three scrum-halves, you have three hookers.

"They're going into the autumn internationals fairly light in that department.

"Warren Gatland likes his small squads and he's decided perhaps to hold back on this position."

Gatland has opted for three scrum-halves, although Sale's Dwayne Peel - the only player not based in Wales included in the 29-man squad - is likely to miss the All Blacks clash.

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The New Zealand game falls outside the International Rugby Board's official window for Test matches and English Guinness Premiership side Sale are not obliged to release Peel for Wales duty.

"I'm glad to see Dwayne there, I'm always a big fan of Dwayne Peel. I think he's looked very, very sharp the times I've seen him this year," Jones said.

"He's a top-quality player and I think when he is available - unfortunately not for the New Zealand game - he'll be back in there pushing Martin Roberts and Gareth Cooper.

"We're always quite well blessed in that department and Dwayne just adds quality to a very good bunch."

With injuries to the likes of Lee Byrne and Morgan Stoddart, Gatland has opted not to name a specialist full-back in his squad.

"I think they've made a bit of a statement with regards to the full-back position: no Dan Evans, who's perhaps been pushing for a place, no Barry Davies," Jones said.

"So that looks very much as though it's between James Hook and Leigh Halfpenny."

Hook has said his preferred position is fly-half but this season has more often found himself lining up at centre, while he has also figured at 15.

Halfpenny could find his more usual wing berth filled by the likes of Shane Williams and Mark Jones, so the goal-kicking Blues flyer might provide an exciting option at full-back.



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see also
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Wales' rugby fixtures
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Wales rugby results archive
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All Blacks magic: New Zealand rugby
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