CARDIFF • Warren Gatland has admitted that it would be a "massive blow" for Wales to lose Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb on the eve of the World Cup.
Gatland watched in horror as two of his key players were carried off on stretchers in an unconvincing 23-19 win over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.
Wales had fought back from an early 0-8 deficit to win. But it was a scrappy encounter that brought more problems than solutions as they prepare to face England and Australia in Pool A of the World Cup, which starts on Sept 18.
Webb, the Pro12 player of the season and the Welsh rugby writers' player of the year, suffered suspected serious ligament damage to his ankle in the first half after falling awkwardly at a ruck.
And Halfpenny's right knee, already heavily strapped, then gave way as he moved to collect a kick 11 minutes from time.
Earlier in the match he had kicked five penalties, passing 500 points in Test rugby. In addition, his superb goalkicking has been a key part of Wales' success in recent years.
Gatland now faces an anxious wait on the result of scans, having already lost centre Jonathan Davies at the start of the summer, before considering any replacements.
Gatland said: "It's not great. You have got to feel for them if they are ruled out of the World Cup. It would be a massive blow for them and disappointing for us.
"It's just one of those things in rugby. Players want to play but unfortunately they can pick up injuries. Look at the second Test in South Africa last summer (when Wales came within seconds of beating the Springboks) - neither of those players were involved.
"So if they are ruled out we will have to put that behind us, work with the players we've got and build towards the next game."
Liam Williams is a ready-made replacement for Halfpenny after recovering from a foot problem. Gareth Anscombe, nursing an Achilles problem, or James Hook could also be considered for call-ups.
Mike Phillips is the natural choice to replace Webb, particularly given the lack of experience between remaining scrum-halves Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams.
Sam Warburton revealed the squad had been left shaken by the potential loss of two key players.
"There's no getting away from the fact they are two huge players for us," he said.
"I'm going to be optimistic and hope that if it's just a grade one or two tear to the ligaments, that is something you can come back from in three weeks, even though they feel worse at the time.
"You do really worry for them when you see guys who are your mates go down in real pain. It hits the rest of the players as well."
Italy also suffered a double injury blow of their own, to centres Luca Morisi and Gonzalo Garcia.
Morisi is out of the World Cup after tearing knee ligaments, while Garcia is also a serious doubt with ankle damage.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS