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Cruelest cut: Injured just before the Rugby World Cup opens

Cruelest cut: Players sweat to make the Rugby World Cup then out injured before it begins

Cruelest cut: Injured just before the Rugby World Cup opens

LONDON (AP) -- The scoreboard said Wales won. To the Welsh fans filing quietly out of Millennium Stadium, it didn't feel like a win.

More like a wake.

Wales' last hit-out before the Rugby World Cup was expected to be a confidence-confirming stroll against an Italian side coming off a 48-point hiding from Scotland.

Instead, nearly 53,000 fans watched Rhys Webb, the best scrumhalf in Europe for the past year, writhe on the field in agony with a left foot injury that would need surgery three days before the Cup, then less than an hour later fullback Leigh Halfpenny, one of the game's greats, try to gather a loose ball and wrench his right knee ligaments so badly that he's out for six months.

Without the two backline headliners, Wales' odds of getting out of its Rugby World Cup pool instantly dropped, former players ripped into coach Warren Gatland for not protecting them, and the country went into mourning.

"Watching that game was horrible," said Wales center Jamie Roberts, who was rested for the match. "To fall at the final hurdle is the cruelest thing imaginable."

Injuries play a critical role in any team but, since all the Cup teams were announced by the end of last month, it's been a cruel fate that's also undermined Argentina, Canada, Italy, Scotland, Samoa, and the United States.

Italy may yet feel the same pain as Wales. That warm-up in Cardiff cost Italy, having already replaced one man, the center Luca Morisi with torn right knee ligaments, and could yet consume captain Sergio Parisse, their best player. Parisse needed a hematoma on his left calf drained and, for now, he will miss their opener against France on Saturday.

Samoa has also had to change two already, and brought prop Census Johnston out of retirement for the second time this year. Johnston, who has played in two World Cups, unexpectedly retired in April, but faced the All Blacks in their first test in Samoa in July, and last week replaced Logovi'i Mulipola, who failed a fitness test on an Achilles.

Argentina tighthead prop Matias Diaz was sidelined after suffering heart palpitations in training, and lock Scott LaValla, America's most valuable forward, broke his elbow at practice. Canada tighthead prop Jason Marshall was ruled out by a rib injury in their last warm-up in London, his first game since coming back from a knee injury.

"Rugby is a cruel game," Marhsall tweeted. "Tough thing watching the bus pull away without me."

Previous Rugby World Cups are littered with players who had to go home injured before the tournament.

Ireland back-rower David Wallace, a 2009 Lion, tore knee ligaments in the last warm-up against England in 2011 and retired nine months later.

Samoa lock Filipo Levi broke his eye socket in a warm-up game eight days before the 2007 Cup, but got to play in 2011.

Springboks No. 8 Pierre Spies was picked for the 2007 Cup, then withdrew because of blood clots. A second doctor cleared him, and Spies was told he could be re-included if a third doctor gave him a positive diagnosis. The third doctor did not. He made it to the 2011 Cup.

Argentina center Martin Gaitan was preparing for his second World Cup in 2007 when he was forced to withdraw because a blocked artery was discovered in his heart. He never played another test.

Neither did Daisuke Ohata, the Japan wing with a world record 69 test tries. Two weeks out from the 2007 Cup, he tore his left Achilles tendon in a warm-up against Portugal, after having only just rehabbed a right Achilles tendon injury.

Perhaps the most disheartening injury was to All Black Andy Dalton, two days before the inaugural 1987 Cup. He hurt his hamstring in training, conceding the captaincy to David Kirk, and the hooker's berth to Sean Fitzpatrick. By the time Dalton recovered in time for the quarterfinals, the team was humming too well for him to break back in. He retired after that Cup.

And then there was fullback Catalin Fercu. A 2005 Cup player for Romania, he angered teammates in 2011 when he refused to board the team's flight to New Zealand. Fercu feared flying, especially long-haul. His teammates eventually forgave him: He's back in their Cup team, but wait - the Oaks don't fly to London until Wednesday.


Updated : 2021-09-24 22:32 GMT+08:00