The Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup looms on the horizon, and this year’s Autumn Internationals are the perfect time to assess Wales’ chances. By [Owen Scourfield].
With less than one year to go until the Rugby World Cup, we now have a little insight into Warren Gatland’s squad mindset going forward towards next year’s Six Nations and further on to Japan 2019. A young, experienced squad with a couple of shock additions, makes for an exciting international series in Cardiff this November.
The autumn test matches have become a staple in the rugby calendar nowadays. The anticipation for next year’s World Cup will have the Welsh rugby public enthusiastic and looking forwards to seeing the boys in red play an open, expansive game. After all, we are still the third best team in the world by ranking… just. This year’s visitors to the Principality Stadium will be a plucky Scotland, no-mugs Tonga, as well as a riled-up Australia and South Africa fresh off the back of a highly competitive Rugby Championship tournament.
Following an impressive if up-and-down start to the season for the Welsh regions, October’s autumn squad announcement was always going to be a target for everyone eligible for selection, and the first round of European rugby matches must have given Gatland and his team some headaches over selection, as many current and uncapped players put their hands up to prove a point and cement a place.
Captaining the squad, the ever-present Alyn Wyn Jones must have been the first name on the sheet, while fellow Osprey Justin Tipuric will surely make the number seven shirt his own following the retirement of former captain Sam Warburton. His absence, plus an unfortunate broken arm for Taulupe Faletau just a week before the squad was announced, left the back row spots up for grabs; those places were unsurprisingly taken up by Cardiff Blues’ Ellis Jenkins, the Dragons’ Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright, while Osprey Dan Lydiate has joined up with his club-mate Tipuric.
The main shocks in the squad came in the backs. Wingers Jonah Holmes (Leicester Tigers) and Luke Morgan (Ospreys) made a beeline for the open spots left by injured pair Owen Lane (Cardiff Blues) and Hallam Amos (Dragons). Holmes, a relative unknown, qualified for Wales through his grandparent, boasted a tally of 10 tries in 11 games last season and takes his place in set up that will surely be a new experience for him. Ospreys winger Luke Morgan, also uncapped, made a big impression early on this season, the Wales Sevens star transitioning effortlessly to the fitness required in the 15-a-side game.
Half-back pairings for Wales have been a topic of discussion for as long as this writer can remember. Rhys Webb is now unfortunately ineligible for selection after his move to Toulon, giving Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies first choice here. However, Ospreys newbie Aled Davies and Blues youngster Tomos Williams will be chomping at the bit for a shot at the number nine jersey.
You’d think Dan Biggar, now playing in England for Northampton, would keep the famous number 10 jersey, but fellow outside halves Rhys Patchell (Scarlets) and Gareth Anscombe (Blues) will again be pushing and pushing for an opportunity to pull the strings in the backline. Don’t let it shock you if Anscombe, having played so spectacularly for the Blues in their opening European win out in Lyon, gets a starting spot at either 10 or 15.
Then there’s fit-again Jonathan Davies back in the fold, newly-signed Osprey George North seems rejuvenated, and a mobile, skilful front five including future front row stars Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys) and Elliot Dee (Dragons). We’re not the only ones excited to see what this squad can deliver this month, hopefully progressing positively towards a huge 2019.
Wales v Scotland (Sat 3 Nov); Australia (Sat 10 Nov); Tonga (Sat 17 Nov); South Africa (Sat 24 Nov). Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Tickets: from £15. Info: www.wru.co.uk