Wales are confident Liam Williams will be available for selection against England at Twickenham next week more than four months after the Lions full-back suffered an ankle injury in training during the World Cup.
Williams, who rejoined the Scarlets from Saracens this month, has not been released to the region this weekend even though he has not played since last October’s quarter-final against France. He has stayed with the national squad to give him two weeks of full training before the match against England a week on Saturday when Wales will be looking to avoid suffering a third successive defeat in a championship campaign for the first time since 2007.
“Liam is getting the volume into his working week,” said the Wales attack coach, Stephen Jones. “He is a bubbly character and it is good to have him back on the training paddock. The key is how he goes this week and next, how we manage his load and get him up to speed.
“It is the decision-making he goes through with the ball, his aerial skills and how he is challenged in training to tackle off boxes to make sure he is available for selection. We have to put him through those scenarios and then have a discussion next week.”
Williams’s return would be timely as the champions have been hit by an injury crisis behind the scrum. Already without Jonathan Davies and Gareth Anscombe, Williams has missed the first three rounds while Josh Adams will sit out the final two weekends after suffering ankle damage against France last weekend when George North suffered a sixth concussion in his career.
“George is going through the protocols,” said Jones. “We have elite medical staff looking after him and he is doing very well. His concussion problems have been well documented and he suffered his previous one four years ago. What is most important is player welfare and everything will be done correctly, not rushed or forced.”
Wales have yet to turn to the 19-year old Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who scored his 11th try of the season for his club last weekend, but he will be in contention for his Test debut if North and Williams are ruled out for Twickenham or, in the case of only the latter, merely considered for the bench.
“We’re following Louis and the good work that he’s doing,” said Jones. “We’re conscious of the fact that he’s been scoring a number of tries. He’s been in and around our group, so he’s doing very well as a youngster. He’s driving himself and it’s good to have that option.”
Wales’s defence of their title ended last weekend with a first home defeat to France in 10 years, but in Wayne Pivac’s first season since succeeding Warren Gatland as head coach they are looking to avoid a season in which they lose more matches than they win, something they have twice suffered since 2007.
Playing England at Twickenham is a special game for our supporters,” said Jones, who was on the bench when Wales ended a 20-year loosing streak at the ground in 2008. “England were impressive against Ireland. They were very physical and brought a huge amount of line speed.
“We’ve got to make sure we embrace that challenge from an attack perspective. We need to have quick ball to play against them. With George Ford and Owen Farrell they have got a huge kicking game with a considerable amount of variety. They look to shake teams defensively but we have to try and win the aerial battle and enjoy the physical battle of taking it to them.
“It is always exciting going to Twickenham and a game against England is always physical. We are expecting no different this time and we have to make sure we are smart in the way we play against their defence. We are aware of the threat posed by Manu Tuilagi, but we have to concentrate on ourselves and the spaces we want to attack.”