The auditions are over after the 26-15 win over Italy and Warren Gatland now has to decide who will take the stage for the huge Six Nations clash with England on Saturday week.
Some of the calls are straightforward and will take no time, others will likely lead to deliberations deep into the night.
MARK ORDERS mulls over the side Gatland is likely to name for the date in Cardiff…
15: LIAM WILLIAMS
The calculation at full-back could change if Leigh Halfpenny is fit.
Gatland is a Halfpenny fan. He values the stability he brings, his ability to read play and his world-class goal-kicking. Who wouldn’t cheer those attributes? If he is deemed OK to resume after his concussion, it is not out of the question that he will be helicoptered into the side.
That said, it has been close on three months since he played and it would be a big call to pitch him straight into a game against England.
And, besides, Williams has acquitted himself well at No. 15 in the opening two rounds of this championship. He might have his critics who say he takes a lot on himself and could do with a dot more vision, but he brings verve with his running from deep and that isn’t a quality Wales can consider shedding too much of right at this moment.
In the absence of an update on Halfpenny’s concussion, let’s assume Williams will start at 15.
14: GEORGE NORTH
If fitness issues stay as they have been in the opening couple of weeks of the Championship, North is likely to return on the right wing.
The Ospreys wing received a lot of criticism for the defensive lapse against France, which saw him take the wrong man in the run-up to Yoann Huget scoring.
But he also scored two tries himself and is a player capable of troubling any defence when in the mood.
13: JONATHAN DAVIES
The leading Lions star of 2017 has had a slow-burn start to the Championship and was singled out for flak after a try chance went begging in Rome when he sent a long miss-pass instead of looking to use the supporting Liam Williams.
But some of his defensive work has been top drawer and he remains a player who is key to the Wales backline.
12: HADLEIGH PARKES
Owen Watkin has given Warren Gatland a decision to make with his effort in Italy.
“Everything Owen Watkin did was absolutely superb,” enthused former Wales captain Gareth Thomas on ITV.
“He’s put big, big pressure on Hadleigh Parkes for the No. 12 jersey for the England game.”
Watkin scored a try and defended well, on one occasion tracking back and making 15 metres up a touchline. He was neat, tidy and largely blemish free.
But he probably needed to do still more to dislodge Parkes, Jonathan Davies’s regional partner and a player Gatland reckons provides the glue in Wales’s backline.
11: JOSH ADAMS
His game wasn’t without error in Rome, with one hideous sliced kick a particular low and he wouldn’t have enjoyed losing an important aerial challenge to Edoardo Padovani.
But Adams gives every impression of being tough mentally and rather than dwell on mistakes on Saturday he came up with a handful of contributions that helped take Wales clear on the scoreboard, among them his try and a couple of surging runs infield.
He can also be a force at restarts and can conjure something out of nothing, an attribute no coach will dismiss lightly.
10: GARETH ANSCOMBE
This is a desperately tight call, because Dan Biggar started the game well in Rome and came up with a number of interventions that would have pleased Gatland.
But there were also some errors such as lumping the ball into touch on the full and attempting a cross kick in a dangerous position. The former Osprey looked to be trying too hard.
Nonetheless, his experience and aerial skills could be worth a lot against England, who neutered a traditional Irish strength with a superb exhibition of jumping and catching in the opening round of this Six Nations.
Much midnight oil will be burned before the decision is made, but Wales beat South Africa with Anscombe as a starter and South Africa should have beaten England three weeks earlier. It would be no surprise if Gatland looked significantly to the starters against the Springboks and Australia for the biggest game Wales have played since.
Credit, too, to Anscombe for the composure he showed after his sticky display in the rain in Paris. The dink over the top he came up with for Owen Watkin’s try was a touch of class on a day when Wales were not exactly drowning in the stuff.
9: GARETH DAVIES
Half-back is proving a problem area for Wales with the positions still open seven months out from the World Cup. It’s not just 10, but nine as well.
Aled Davies put in some nice box kicks against Italy and attempted the occasional dart forward, but he also had to dig deep for ball at rucks and was troubled on a number of occasions by home forwards pouring through.
And while Tomos Williams improved as the game went on against France, he didn’t set the world alight with his game control.
Could Gareth Davies have done any better?
That isn’t certain, but he has experience, an attribute that should count for something in a big game. He is also an explosive broken-field runner. Maybe, he will get the vote.
1: ROB EVANS
Another decision that could go either way.
Nicky Smith is like an extra back rower with his willingness to compete at the breakdown.
He may have been pinged once there in Rome but he snaffled a turnover in the game and his expertise in the tackle area and industry around the field gives Wales something extra, which might be useful when England will have Mako Vunipola on the field.
Is Evans a marginally stronger scrummager? There’s not a lot in it, but he did well in the tight against France and may just shade the call.
2: KEN OWENS
The Welsh line-out has been desperate in the Championship so far, with a 65 per cent success rate over the two matches played. For an international side that is nowhere near good enough.
There were excuses in Paris in that the weather was awful.
But the problems didn’t clear up in Rome as four out of 13 throws went astray, checking Welsh attempts to build momentum.
Owens was absent on Saturday but will surely be back for the England game. He carries hard, hits ferociously in the tackle and is a leader who takes responsibility.
3: TOMAS FRANCIS
Francis and Samson Lee have improved their games over the past year and stood out when given opportunities in this Six Nations.
Lee scrummaged strongly against Italy and put his hand up for carrying. “Like a cannonball with eyes,” David Flatman called him during the TV commentary.
Whoever Wales pick, the chap in question will need to be on top of his game against Mako Vunipola.
Maybe Francis’ work in the autumn Tests will swing the verdict his way — just.
4: ADAM BEARD
The Welsh line-out was dismal in the Italian capital and at one point Beard appeared to have an exchange of words over its failings with Elliot Dee.
The Ospreys lock hasn’t torn up trees by the forest-full so far in this Six Nations but Gatland will possibly reason that a game with arguably the most physical side in the tournament isn’t the time to be dropping his biggest bloke.
There were some positives from Beard against Italy, notwithstanding a dropped pass and Wales’ line-out issues. On one occasion he ripped the ball clear from an Italian carrier and he worked tirelessly at mauls. He also shoved his weight in the scrums and Gatland may have enjoyed his apparent contretemps with Dee: it showed the 6ft 8in Osprey cared enough to get animated.
5: ALUN WYN JONES
His selection will take a micro-second or less.
He galvanises others and is a player who always turns up.
Wales will need him to be at his best a week on Saturday.
Wales’ results in 2018
Feb 3: Wales 34-7 Scotland (Cardiff)
Feb 10: England 12-6 Wales (Twickenham)
Feb 24: Ireland 37-27 Wales (Dublin)
March 11: Wales 38-14 Italy (Cardiff)
March 17: Wales 14-13 France (Cardiff)
June 2: Wales 22-20 South Africa (Washington)
June 9: Argentina 10-23 Wales (San Juan)
June 16: Argentina 12-32 Wales (Santa Fe)
Nov 3: Wales 21-10 Scotland (Cardiff)
Nov 10: Wales 9-6 Australia (Cardiff)
Nov 17: Wales 74-24 Tonga (Cardiff)
Nov 24: Wales 20-11 South Africa (Cardiff)
PLAYED 12, WON 10, LOST 2
6: JOSH NAVIDI
The Wales back row have performed well against France and Italy and Navidi has been the common factor, starting the games and catching the eye in Paris and Rome.
He brings grit to the Welsh effort and does not go missing.
When there are dirty jobs to be done, such as attempting to stop and hold up a massive opposition forward, he fronts up and does them.
Aaron Wainwright came up with a strong game in Rome with his dynamic carrying and strong tackling, but Wales need Navidi’s ball-pilfering skills and rugged physicality for the game with England.
7: JUSTIN TIPURIC
Thomas Young put down a marker with his effort against Italy, claiming a number of turnovers, defending well and joining attacks. There was a blot on his copybook when he misjudged his positioning in defence in the build-up to an Italy try, but, generally, he had a fine game and has done his World Cup prospects no harm.
Tipuric is the man for this particular assignment, however.
It wasn’t just the 18 tackles he put in against France that so impressed. It was the way he organised the Welsh defensive effort and the way he was there in the final seconds, scything down opponents when he had every right to feel tired. He never waits for anyone to make a tackle he could put in himself.
And he can hold his own against the best at the breakdown, as he showed with three turnovers against David Pocock and Michael Hooper when Wales played Australia in November.
Cope against those two and the assumption is a player can cope against anyone… including England’s back row.
8: ROSS MORIARTY
If you are facing a side steeped in physicality then there are worse ideas than to have Ross Moriarty at your disposal.
He can occasionally forget to count to 10, but he is no respecter of reputations and the effort he puts in can border on the extraordinary.
Wales will need a big-performing No. 8 to match Billy Vunipola.
It’s one of rugby’s tallest orders, but Moriarty will not fail for want of trying. That isn’t his way.
Source link : https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/wales-team-warren-gatland-likely-15808565
Publish date : 2019-02-10 15:05:00