January 22, 2020 / 12:21 PM / a month ago

Wales coach Pivac eyes early injury return for key backs

LONDON (Reuters) - Wales’s new rugby coach Wayne Pivac gave a positive update on several of his injured players on Wednesday as the Six Nations champions prepare for their opener at home to Italy on Feb 1.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Wales v Barbarians - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - November 30, 2019 Wales head coach Wayne Pivac before the match REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

Fullback Liam Williams will miss that fixture but is likely to be ready for their second game against Ireland, Pivac said.

Williams, who has not played since dropping out of the World Cup squad with an ankle injury sustained in training, is almost irreplaceable for Wales with his aerial defence and counter-attacking runs able to neuter the kicking game of opponents.

There was also an injury update on Wales’s hot new prospect, Louis Rees-Zammit, who has burst into the squad after scorching performances down the touchlines this season for Gloucester.

The 18-year-old winger limped off after a knock in Sunday’s European Champions Cup defeat at Toulouse, but Pivac said he should be ready for the first Six Nations game.

“Louis picked up a bump last week, he’s worked well with the medical team and he’ll hopefully be training this morning,” Pivac said.

Finally there was good news surrounding the problem centre position for Wales, where the absence of Jonathan Davies and several other midfielders had left Pivac pondering the option of moving one of his wingers infield.

Ospreys centre Owen Watkin could be available for Wales’s opening game, Pivac said, despite a knee injury picked up in early December that looked likely to keep him out for longer.

Pivac, one of four new head coaches in this year’s tournament, said his side have spoken about the burden of expectation that comes with being Grand Slam champions.

Wales face a difficult schedule, with the visit to Ireland in the second week followed by a trip to England in the penultimate round before they host Scotland on March 14.

“We’ve spoken about the terminology of defending the trophy, we look at it as we’re new management with some new players and we don’t see ourselves as defending, we’ve got to go out and win it,” Pivac said.

Reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Ken Ferris

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