6N: Gatland says playing Biggar after 5 weeks out not risky
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Flyhalf Dan Biggar’s first rugby action in five weeks will be for Wales against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
Wales coach Warren Gatland believes he’s ready.
Biggar was summoned on Tuesday along with other fit-again backs Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams for a test Wales must win to stay in Six Nations title contention.
Biggar’s right shoulder was injured in a club game on Jan. 20, and he hasn’t played since. He was expected to miss the first three rounds of the Six Nations. No. 8 Taulupe Faletau became available this week, too, after damaging left knee ligaments in early December. But Gatland told Faletau he needed a game for his Bath club before being considered for Wales.
“It always is (a risk playing Biggar), isn’t it?” Gatland posed. “That’s the beauty of having experienced players. They’re easier to throw into a situation like that, having had limited rugby. If it was a younger player then you’d probably be looking at a different scenario. Dan has a lot of experience and has taken a full part in training. We felt it was the right time to bring him back in.”
Picking Biggar, a British Lion with 60 Wales caps, also was in response to the mediocre effort of Rhys Patchell 10 days ago in the 12-6 loss to England at Twickenham. Patchell, making his second test start, struggled with the weight of responsibility as flyhalf and goalkicker in drizzly conditions.
The kicking game against England disappointed, Gatland said.
“Rhys ... was disappointed with how things went,” he added. “But it was a great experience and he wanted to get back on the horse. He’ll learn from his experiences last week.”
Patchell was dropped from the matchday 23 along with right winger Josh Adams, who was replaced by Williams, another Lion coming back from abdominal and hip injuries.
Halfpenny returns to fullback, where he starred in the first-up win over Scotland. But he withdrew on the morning of the England match because of a foot infection. Gareth Anscombe started and had a decent game at 15 and 10, where he switched in the second half after Patchell was taken off.
Anscombe, who had a first-half try disallowed in error, was in the reserves, along with George North, who was the other major issue for Gatland and his selectors.
North made an impact as a replacement against England, and proved his fitness with a try for Northampton last weekend. But Gatland retained left wing Steff Evans and wants to save North for the second half again at Lansdowne Road.
Gatland said they have become comfortable with the depth at wing.
They were also confident going to Dublin, where Wales have won three times since the tournament expanded in 2000, and drew the last match there 16-16 in 2016.
“We’re pretty happy with our record against (Ireland) over the last four or five games. They tend to be close encounters,” Gatland said.
“We know it’s a massive, must-win game against a team that are difficult to get the ball off. They’re comfortable playing through lots of phases, their 9 and 10 combination is probably one of the best in world rugby.”
It’s appropriate that Gatland’s 100th test in charge of Wales is against Ireland, a team he used to coach.
“It’s a nice honor (100 tests) but it’s just something to reflect back on,” he said. “This weekend is about the game, it’s about the players and the result. That’s more important than reaching 100 games.”
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Cory Hill, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Rob Evans. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, George North.