Wales to give George North and Dan Biggar until Saturday to prove fitness for England game
Last Updated: 09/02/17 5:35pm
Wales boss Rob Howley says key backs George North and Dan Biggar will be given "every opportunity" to feature in Saturday's Six Nations showdown with England.
Howley has named both players in his starting XV for England's Principality Stadium visit, but with Wales having just a six-day turnaround following last weekend's win over Italy - in which Biggar took a blow to his ribs and North suffered leg bruising - they remain works in progress.
If needs be, Wales are to prepared to leave any fitness decisions until the day of the game.
"George hasn't done too much this week, and Dan has done a couple of sessions," said interim head coach Howley, who has called up props Rob Evans and Tomas Francis as his only two changes from the 33-7 victory in Rome.
"Those two players [Biggar and North] will be given every opportunity to be fit. They are two experienced and important players for us.
"It is a big game, and both players want to be part of that game as you would expect. We have prepared as best as we can.
"The six days have focused our minds, but the good thing is we've been here before in the Rugby World Cup. We have got extremely motivated players and are looking forward to the challenge that England will bring."
Alex Cuthbert, who scored two tries when Wales destroyed Grand Slam-chasing England in Cardiff four years ago, would be favourite to replace Northampton wing North if any change is required, with Sam Davies taking over from his Ospreys fly-half colleague Biggar.
It would mean Davies moving off the bench - as he did to great effect at half-time in Rome - with uncapped Leicester back Owen Williams potentially joining the replacements.
Williams has been released back to Leicester for their Aviva Premiership game against Gloucester, but Howley revealed he had already spoken with Tigers head coach Aaron Mauger about the situation.
"We have released him, as we are very confident that Dan will make it," he said. "Any mishaps in the next 24 hours, and Aaron is well aware of the situation. We had that conversation yesterday.
"There are no excuses from us. We've trained as best as we can, and we are looking forward to facing one of the best sides, if not the best side, in the northern hemisphere at this moment.
"You admire their strength in depth. It is a game which we look forward to. We are excited and ready for the challenge."
Evans and Francis bolstered Wales' scrum when they went on as replacements at Stadio Olimpico, so their appearance in the starting XV this time around is no surprise.
Sixty-two-cap No 8 Taulupe Faletau features among the substitutes for potentially his first run-out since being injured on Christmas Eve.
Wales' starting back-row - Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty - boasts 110 more caps than England's untried breakaway unit, with Faletau ready to enter the action at some point.
"I think it speaks volumes of our back-row," Howley said.
"I think the quality and experience in that back-row will have a significant impact on the game at the weekend. Toby (Faletau) hasn't played for a long time, but that hasn't looked like that in training."
Assessing England's challenge, Howley added: "England have gone 15 games unbeaten, and they have huge confidence and self-belief.
"They got across the line against France. In the first [Six Nations] games at the weekend, there is always a rustiness, and we saw elements of that, but no doubt they will be ready for this game.
"Before Italy, we tried to prepare a little bit about England as well. We are looking forward to kick-off on Saturday."
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The Principality Stadium roof looks set to be closed for England's visit - a final decision was expected on Thursday - although both teams must agree for it to be shut.
Wales' preference is a closed roof, and skipper Alun Wyn Jones said: "We are very fortunate to have a stadium that adds to the occasion, but ultimately the rugby has to be the focus, and hopefully we can do the occasion justice.
"When it is closed it's obviously not claustrophobic, but there is essentially no escape for anyone or anything, and I think sometimes that is a great place to be, whether you are an away team or a home team.
"It's the sort of occasion you want to be involved in."