Wales drop Lions trio Hibbard, Hook, Phillips from World Cup squad
Wales coach Warren Gatland has axed three British and Irish Lions players from his Rugby World Cup preliminary roster in reaction to their warm-up friendly loss to Six Nations champions Ireland.
Mike Phillips, James Hook and Richard Hibbard join prop Nicky Smith, second row Rory Thornton, number eight Dan Baker, back Rhys Patchell and centre Jack Dixon in losing their chances of being named in the final 31-man squad on August 31st.
Less-experienced players being cut had an air of inevitability about it following the 31-25 loss on home soil at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, but leaving the headline trio will raise eyebrows.
“It’s been a difficult task reducing the squad down and deciding who will meet up with us again on Monday [at the Wales Rugby Union national centre of excellence],” said Gatland.
“All the players involved over the past eight weeks have put a huge amount of effort in. The intensity and dedication from the players out in Switzerland and Qatar has been really impressive.
“That makes our job a lot harder but as we continue to move into our rugby focused phase of training its important we reduce the squad number down.
“There will be disappointment from the players but its important to stress that the door is not closed. We name our final Rugby World Cup squad on 31 August and a lot can happen between now and then.”
Hibbard looked certain to at last make the Welsh World Cup squad, but misses out for the third time on selection.
Fly half Hook, with 78 caps, often fell out of favour since Gatland took charge of Wales in 2008, yet always managed to get back into the fold.
Scrum half Mike Phillips, six caps shy of a century, may now have played his last game for Wales, leaving Lloyd Williams, Rhys Webb and Gareth Davies to contend for that berth in Gatland’s XV.
Coral make Wales 16/1 shots to win the Rugby World Cup, and 11/4 third-favourites behind hosts England and Australia to top Pool A.