As Wales prepare for the first test in Auckland on June 11th, it must be said Welsh progress wasn’t perfect to begin with, and Robert Rees asks “how much has this affected their first XV selection?”
NOT IDEAL PREPARATION
Wales’ horrific beating at the hands of England down at Twickenham last Sunday was far from ideal and does put a question over the lack of Welsh progress in recent games.
Heading into a tour against the reigning two time world champions, in their back yard is one to be relished usually, but the loss to England has put a downer on Welsh expectations and hopes, or at least amongst the public. Wales would have liked to have carried some sort of win or good performance downunder, yet neither was taken. A five tries to one thumping was dished out by Eddie Jones‘ men and it could have been more.
Looking ahead, Warren Gatland must have been hoping to see some stand-out performers that he would place into the starting XV for the first test. However none were really found. Ross Moriaty played one of his better games, and Hallum Amos was looking good in attack but otherwise, the whole squad looked dire from the 20 minute mark onwards–especially in defence.
Most Welsh fans could probably tell you that avoiding injury, Gatland would pick his standard XV. His ‘tried and tested’ even though after the England loss, questions will be raised above some players heads.
So, with Luke Charteris just arriving in New Zealand and Sam Warburton likely to return from injury they would likely come directly into the starting line-up. Ken Owens is now listed as fit again and so is more likely to be in contention to stabilize our line-outs and scrums, then Scott Baldwin could be dropped (unlikely as it is) Ellis Jenkins, maybe another good shout to start, although with Moriaty having a decent warm-up game, he is unlikely start.
Backline positions that could be in contention for, are often up for contention and open to change than the forwards. Rhys Webb and George North are both pretty much nailed on to start, but otherwise other spots could be up for grabs.
The fly half slot has been dominated by Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland in recent years. This could change this summer however, with a few poor or below par performances from the resident pivots. We need to change something to stand any chance of a win downunder, and bringing in Gareth Anscombe at fly half could be one way of doing this.
He will be quick off the mark and will certainly make things happen, his time with Cardiff Blues proves he is effective at going forward.
The centre partnership is a hugely debated pairing. Who do we pick out of Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams and Jamie Roberts? There is a gateway for all three to play, however just two if them can. Wales could see a relatively unseen pair in Williams and Davies, and this would be fantastic to see going forward, however can we really see Gatland dropping Roberts?
WELSH PROGRESS IS NEEDED
Currently the backs are a mixed bunch who have the potential to offer us this key factor. A partner for George North on the wing is another choppy position with Eli Walker, Tom James, Alex Cuthbert and Amos all playing there in recent tests. The lead runner this time however would be Amos, with James also in with a shout. A lack of depth at this position maybe vital in deciding who plays with Amos, due to the Welsh struggling in defence against England.
Full back poses more options yet again, with no Leigh Halfpenny [yet to return to International rugby after injured] Wales must look towards Liam Williams and Anscombe possibly as the number 15 representatives on tour. Williams wasn’t a stand out man facing the English, but has pedigree. His volatile temper on occasions could however hold him back, if his performances slip and this could be a way into the starting XV for Anscombe–if he fails to break in at number ten that is.
CHANCES OF CHANGE
The likelihood of major changes in the Welsh side are slim, barring injury although do look for the odd positional places to be swapped around. There will be however certain ‘swaps’ from the side that was dire in England. Hopefully these changes are there to inspire the squad to victory and go out there to win from the first test, rather than to avoid loss. Because to stand any chance of a win against Steve Hansen’s men, the Welsh must be flawless.
“Main photo credit”