Hibbard set to rejoin Welsh squad

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Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Richard Hibbard is set to rejoin the Wales squad on Monday following a substitute’s appearance for Gloucester that has left national coach Warren Gatland seeking “clarity” about his injury position.

Wales ruled hooker Hibbard out of contention for Saturday’s Test match against Fiji due to an ankle problem.

Under International Rugby Board rules, he was released back to his club at Gloucester’s request – and then played eight minutes of their Aviva Premiership defeat against Harlequins on Friday night.

Gatland has admitted “surprise” at developments, although there is nothing to suggest at this stage that 32 times-capped Hibbard will not be involved when Wales host world champions New Zealand next weekend.

“He presented to us early in the week with an injury, we put him in a (surgical) boot and he wasn’t available for selection,” Gatland said, following a laboured 17-13 victory over Fiji that saw Scott Baldwin start as hooker and Emyr Phillips provide bench cover.

“Then he was to go back to Gloucester, and it was a surprise to us that on the Wednesday he presents himself to Gloucester being able to be fit to go on the bench.

“I just want to get some clarity on what’s going on. Either you are fit to be available or you are not. If he was fit for Wales, he would have been involved.

“Either he is fit, or he is not. I don’t see how you can somehow become fit halfway through the week. I suppose sometimes that’s pressure that clubs put on, and he was told he would sit on the bench and he would not go on unless there was an injury.

“He went on with eight minutes to go, but I am not sure if that was a tactical replacement or an injury replacement. I need to check on that.

“But the player needs to take some responsibility as well. I don’t blame Gloucester, because they are in their own competition and they want to put out a team that is good enough to win.

“Sometimes, the player needs to be stronger, and that is the conversation we will have with him.”

While the Hibbard situation rumbles on, Wales must quickly regroup following their sub-standard efforts in beating a Fiji side reduced to 14 men during the third quarter when prop Campese Ma’afu was sent off.

One of the few bright spots, though, was a Test debut for 20-year-old Ospreys prop Nicky Smith, who acquitted himself well after replacing skipper Gethin Jenkins 15 minutes from time.

“It means the world to me,” Smith said. “I never expected this to happen in a million years, and for it to happen at such a young age as well, you can’t explain it.

“I was with the (Wales) Under-20s in the World Cup, and then a year later I am representing the Wales senior team. It has gone really quickly, but I am enjoying it.

“Gethin was one of my childhood heroes, and to be training with players like him and Paul James, you learn so much from them.

“All the coaches shook my hand and said ‘well done’ on the first one (cap), and I am just ready to kick on now, keep my feet on the ground and hopefully I will get another chance.

“I have got my first cap, and that is unbelievable to be honest. Anything more will be a bonus for me.

“I am not going to beat myself up if I am not involved (against remaining autumn opponents New Zealand and South Africa). It has been great so far to be training with the boys, and if I am lucky enough to get a chance, that will be great.”

Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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