Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, is confident that the late withdrawal of Matthew Rees, the hooker, with a groin injury will not hurt his side on Saturday when they start their bid to win back the Six Nations crown against England. The 2008 grand slam winners, who were fourth last year, will have Cardiff Blues' Gareth Williams come in to replace Rees for the clash at Twickenham, and Gatland expects him to slot in seamlessly.
He said: "Gareth Williams has been in great form for his region and produced some impressive performances in recent weeks. "We are obviously disappointed for Matthew but he returned to us with a sore groin after playing at the weekend and he has not responded as quickly as we would have liked to treatment. "Gareth is surrounded by a wealth of experience, not just in the front row but throughout the forwards."
The good news for Wales is that Lee Byrne starts at full-back after he successfully won an appeal against a two-week ban for his role as the '16th man' in the Ospreys' recent Heineken Cup victory over Leicester. Meanwhile, Mathieu Bastareaud has been recalled to France's starting line-up for Sunday's Six Nations opener against Scotland as one of several changes by Marc Lievremont, the coach. The 21-year-old Stade Francais player lost his place after making false claims that he had been the victim of an attack in New Zealand last June before admitting that he injured himself in a drunken fall in his hotel room.
"Mathieu called himself into question. We hope that what happened a few months ago helped him to grow up," Lievremont said. "We just hope he will confirm his good performances with his club on Sunday." * With agencies