sport

Wales sweating over Roberts

Wales are desperately hoping that Jamie Roberts emerges unscathed from this weekend's French domestic action.

Wales' midfield injury troubles would deepen considerably if anything happens to 55 times-capped Roberts.

The former Cardiff Blues centre is back in Paris with his Wales and Racing Metro team-mates Mike Phillips and Dan Lydiate, and he looks set to be involved in Saturday's Top 14 game against Bayonne.

Wales host France in a crunch RBS 6 Nations clash on Friday week, having lost centre Scott Williams from their plans due to a shoulder injury, while Williams' Scarlets colleague Jonathan Davies has played only 40 minutes of rugby since early November.

With Williams sidelined and British and Irish Lions star Davies currently battling to regain full fitness in his recovery from a torn pectoral muscle, Wales head coach Warren Gatland seemingly faces a choice between James Hook, Ashley Beck and wing George North as Roberts' midfield partner against Les Bleus.

Wales must beat France at the Millennium Stadium to retain any realistic hope of being crowned Six Nations champions for an unprecedented third successive season.

"It was a blow to lose Scott," assistant coach Shaun Edwards said, reflecting on Williams' injury that was suffered against Ireland last weekend after he tackled Brian O'Driscoll.

"He needs surgery on the injury so has been released back to the Scarlets, but hopefully he will be back playing as soon as possible.

"We do have a couple of injuries in the centre.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed that Jamie Roberts comes through his game over the weekend, and we will keep looking at Jonathan Davies, who we are hopeful will play a part in the campaign at some stage, but he's not quite ready yet."

Gatland is not due to announce his starting line-up for the French game until next Wednesday, by when forwards Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins should have gained further important game-time following recent injuries.

Both players started Wales' 26-3 defeat against Ireland, but they were released back to the Blues this week ahead of Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 appointment with Glasgow and are set for some involvement in that fixture.

Despite Wales currently standing fourth in the Six Nations table, holding a vastly-inferior points difference in comparison with unbeaten leaders Ireland and second-placed France, defence specialist Edwards remains upbeat.

"Obviously, we are all disappointed with the performance last week, but we are still in the hunt," he added.

"We went to Ireland having lost only one of the last 11 Six Nations games and not lost away for two years in the competition, so to lose by a score of that size was incredibly disappointing.

"We learnt last year that you don't have to win every game to win the Six Nations, but we also know that points difference is so important in this competition. The France game is a must-win game."

Three critical areas for Gatland, his coaching staff and players to address will be defending driving lineouts, the critical breakdown area that was dominated by Ireland flanker Peter O'Mahony five days ago and reducing a penalty count which ran comfortably and uncharacteristically into double figures in Dublin.

"France are very strong through the forwards, and if we can win the battle on the advantage line and stop their maul, we will be in with a big chance," Edwards said.

"They are scoring tries in a variety of different ways and are looking good. France were our bogey team for a little while - they won about three on the trot against us - but the last two occasions have gone our way."

Wales lock Andrew Coombs, meanwhile, added: "We've got to stay positive. We are a very strong outfit and we haven't lost too many games in the Six Nations over the last few years.

"Last year, we started poorly against Ireland and there weren't too many changes made and the boys redeemed themselves.

"Everybody is hurting at the moment. We let ourselves down at the weekend, and we want to put that right. It is a matter of training hard now and throwing everything at France."