Wales head coach Warren Gatland insists the Rugby World Cup dream remains alive for Richard Hibbard, Mike Phillips and James Hook, despite axing the three British and Irish Lions stars from his squad.
Hooker Hibbard, scrum-half Phillips and fly-half Hook were among eight players released to their regions yesterday as Gatland pruned his training party down to 38 men.
“It has been a difficult task reducing the squad down and deciding who will meet up with us again on Monday,” said Gatland, who must cut another seven players before the 31 August deadline.
“There will be disappointment from the players, but it’s important to stress that the door is not closed. A lot can happen between now and then [31 August].”
Jack Dixon, Rhys Patchell, Nicky Smith, Rory Thornton and Dan Baker were the other players released by England’s Pool A rivals.
Hibbard’s omission is the biggest surprise. Gatland selected the 31-year-old for three Tests on the last Lions tour, to Australia in 2013, and he started last week’s 35-21 defeat to Ireland. Phillips and Hook also played in that fixture and received criticism for their displays.