Ryan Jones has been forced to withdraw from Wales’ bid to make Six Nations history after a hamstring injury ruled him out of the tournament.
In a huge blow to Warren Gatland, the back-row forward suffered the injury in Osprey’s Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster on Friday night and will now be replaced in the squad by club team-mate James King.
Wales are the 2/1 favourites to become the first country to win three successive Six Nations crowns but injuries and bans are threatening to derail their bid.
Jones, who captained Wales in three matches in last season’s winning campaign, is the latest in a long line of Welsh stars who have given Gatland fitness worries.
The forward, who has won 75 caps for his country and captained Wales to 2008 Grand Slam success, will be sorely missed by the Wales head coach, especially with doubts surrounding the fitness of Sam Warburton.
Captain Warburton has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since Wales’ Autumn Internationals defeat to Australia, although he is hopeful of being ready to face Italy in the competition opener at the Millennium Stadium.
But with his Cardiff team-mate, prop Gethin Jenkins, also an injury doubt and hooker Richard Hibbard facing a race against time to be fit after suffering a hip injury in Ospreys’ match in Ireland last weekend, the problems are mounting for the defending champions.
British and Irish Lions hero Jonathan Davies is reportedly making good progress as he returns from a chest injury but is still likely to be forced to sit out the games against the Azzurri and Ireland.
The Red Dragons are currently 6/1 to repeat their 2012 Grand Slam success but with injury problems mounting it may be wise to side against the champions, with 8/13 available with Ladbrokes for no team to remain unbeaten.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £50 in free bets.