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Six Nations: Wales head coach Warren Gatland admits he has a shortage in midfield

Warren Gatland admits that Wales’ midfield selection options have been stretched as he prepares for the resumption of RBS 6 Nations action.

Wales head to Rome for an appointment with Italy on Saturday, having seen Jonathan Davies join his fellow injured centres Tom Shanklin, Andrew Bishop and Gavin Henson.

Head coach Gatland was left with little choice other than to switch James Hook from fly-half as Jamie Roberts’ midfield partner, and recall Scarlets number 10 Stephen Jones off the bench for his 98th cap.

Hook will mark his 50th Test appearance by starting in a third different position of this season’s Six Nations campaign. He was full-back against England, and then orchestrated Wales’ Murrayfield victory over Scotland from fly-half.

Gatland said: “The midfield competition is a concern for us.

“We have Jonathan picking up an injury and Tom Shanklin and Andrew Bishop also injured, and it is difficult when you are looking at players in the regions that are playing there.

“You have (New Zealanders) Casey Laulala and Regan King playing at 13 (for Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets, respectively) and often Tommy Bowe plays there for the Ospreys.

“So if you pick up one or two injuries, you do struggle a little bit with depth for picking players into the squad.

“James is familiar playing 13 for us, and it gives Stephen a good opportunity at 10 against Italy.

“We sort of trawled Wales in terms of what were the alternatives of bringing people in, but we wanted to keep within the squad and it is about getting our best players on the field.

“We could have looked at another midfield option, but that potentially weakens the squad in terms of bringing someone in fresh, with the calls and continuity.”

His midfield shuffle apart, Gatland has retained the team on duty in Edinburgh, although fit-again Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny gains a place among the substitutes.

Given the manner of their 59-13 drubbing against England last time out, Italy once again appear destined for the Six Nations wooden spoon.

They have propped up the table eight times during the 11 previous Six Nations campaigns, but Gatland believes that Twickenham debacle will motivate them.

He added: “They are dangerous because they will be hurting from the performance against England.

“We know how tough they are at home. It (Rome) has been a banana skin for Wales in the past, and it was a tough game for us there two years ago.

“The key for us is to build on confidence from the result against Scotland. I thought it was a very professional performance.”

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