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Wales' Rees faces big test from Wallabies

By Andrew Baldock 27/10/2010 04:28:32 PM Comments (0)

Recently appointed Wales skipper Matthew Rees has vowed to lead from the front when he captains Wales in their opening Test match of Australia's rugby spring tour next week.

But the hooker is dealing with a mounting injury toll after Wales' confirmed the loss of two more British and Irish Lions.

Full-back Lee Byrne (broken hand) had already been ruled out of the November clash with the Wallabies, while Byrne's Ospreys colleague Ryan Jones is also sidelined with a torn calf muscle.

A decision on Jones' availability, or otherwise, for the remaining November fixtures will be made after Australia's Millennium Stadium visit.

Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny, meanwhile, is to leave the Wales squad after suffering ankle ligament damage that will sideline him for three to four weeks.

Wales have only claimed one Tri Nations scalp from nine attempts during boss Warren Gatland's coaching reign.

And chances of improving that sequence at Australia's expense are now clearly not as good as they might have been with Byrne, Jones and Halfpenny all absent.

Rees though, will be more concerned with those players alongside him on Saturday week after gaining Gatland's vote above other potential captaincy candidates such as lock Alun-Wyn Jones, fly-half Stephen Jones and flanker Martyn Williams.

"To be honest, it hasn't sunk in yet. I am sure it will take a few days," Rees said.

"I think captaining the Scarlets has brought me on as a player, and I am looking forward to the job in hand.

"The most important thing is leading up-front, being quite vocal on the pitch and taking control of certain situations.

"I hope to be able to take it all in my stride."

Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins has no doubt about 29-year-old Rees' suitability for the role.

"He has developed into an awesome player for Wales and the Lions," Jenkins said.

"This is a fantastic achievement for him, and fully deserved.

"If he plays like he normally does, he will be fine."

Gatland might have little realistic option other than to switch James Hook from centre as Byrne's replacement, a move Hook made with considerable success last autumn when Byrne was also injured.

"It is obviously disappointing for Lee and Leigh," added Jenkins.

"You want your players fit and able to play. Both of them have had pretty good seasons so far.

"The Wallabies have pretty much changed their game to how they played against us a year ago.

"Whereas they were averaging about 30-odd kicks a game, they've pretty much cut that in half under the new laws and are keeping a lot more ball in hand.

"I am not saying they can't kick - Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau are two of the best kickers out of hand, and they can cause teams all sorts or problems.

"But the way they are going at the moment, they are playing a lot more ball in hand, so it will be interesting to see how we go against that a week on Saturday."

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