What’s the big deal with this Wales squad announcement?
Well, that’s just it, it isn’t just a big deal. It’s many big deals. This squad has more big deals than Donald Trump’s dream journal. This is probably the most big-deal filled Welsh squad since the 2011 World Cup. And that’s a big deal. There are many twists and turns and tales to be covered here so let’s dive into who is missing out this Autumn.
Scott Williams is the name that first jumps out at you, at least it would if it were on the squad list, which it isn’t. The Scarlets centre that was in the heart of a backline that ran and passed its way to Pro12 glory in Dublin just months ago is nowhere to be seen. Normally in a Warren Gatland squad, just looking at a player that was in form in the last five years is good enough to get you on this list, but Scott Williams’ absence is the first example that this may no longer be the case. While nobody can doubt his talent, he has not been in his finest form and has been relegated to sharing his centre role with someone who is in the Wales team, but we’ll leave that little Kiwi-shaped nugget of news until later.
Luke Charteris is a big tall man, rumour says he never has to travel for away games because he can just reach anywhere in the world with his big long spider arms. About the only thing he can’t grasp with his giant hands this autumn is a Wales place. All second-row berths have gone to Wales based players this year and so we’ll miss out on seeing Mr. Tickle wriggle his way through a maul for now, but the two lock youngsters in Seb Davies and Adam Beard are solid enough replacements.
Scott Baldwin. Presumably, a tabby cat called mittens has learned of his weakness and we won’t be seeing him again for a while.
Injuries. My god are there some injuries. It seems the rugby gods have heard us Welsh boasting about our depth in the back row and decided to test the legitimacy of this claim by striking down with great fury Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, James Davies and Ollie Griffiths. Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate, who are in the squad, are also carrying niggles. George North is broken again too. Typical.
In a smooth segue from my mention of Wales’ many injured flankers, it makes sense to now talk about the inclusion of Sam Cross. That’s right, Olympic Silver Medallist Sam Cross. Perhaps Warren Gatland was upset about not being able to pick Olympic Silver Medallist James Davies in his back row, so instead went for the next best thing. I don’t mean to say that Sam Cross isn’t a fine player, he had a sparkling senior professional 15s debut against Saracens, and there was that time he had a sparkling senior professional 15s debut against Saracens. His debut being last Saturday, I’m struggling to come up with more examples of his prowess in the 15s games which is why some Scarlets fans are a bit annoyed at Cross’ selection over Will Boyde. It’s probably a good thing for them however as if he was selected then Scarlets’ back row would be missing James Davies, John Barclay, Will Boyde and Aaron Shingler.
Staying in West Wales I would like to celebrate the inclusion of Steff Evans, flavour of the past few seasons for Scarlets and no doubt a natural talent on the wing. He’ll have a great opportunity to prove himself against the best teams in the world and also Australia while they figure out how to fix George North.
Weeeoooow weeeeeoooow. What’s the noise? Oh, it’s the Dragons selection alarm! Let me just fix that it goes off every time Wales pick Hallam Amos so let me just- hold on, Dragons have five players in the Wales squad!? Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Cory “Lions Tourist” Hill, Tyler Morgan and Hallam Amos. All joking aside, there are no complaints from me here. Brown and Dee are up and comers in Wales’s new look attempt at a front row and the rest have more than enough experience with Wales squads in the past to feel comfortable this Autumn.
We’re going to stay with the backs now because this is where things get spicy. Gatland and pals have decided to go for four fly-halves this autumn, Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland, Rhys Patchell and Owen Williams. This is a lot of 10s for a squad of 23 that will have two at most, but this is where things get even spicier. It would seem that in Warren Gatland in his eternal quest to be Eddie Jones has decided to blur the lines between 10 and 12 by only picking two regular 12s, one of whom can’t be selected until December and the other is fresh out of puberty with just two senior games under his belt this season. This could result in some very interesting combinations in the inside backs, we’ll just have to wait and see.
I’ll finish with some more on those centres. Owen Watkin is one of the more interesting selections in the backs, having come to the notice of the rugby public a couple of seasons ago with a stellar end to a season, he missed out last year with a long-term injury. Only recently back playing with Ospreys in the last couple of weeks, it would seem his continued good form despite the long break was enough to include him in the squad. Hadleigh Parkes is by far the chief headline of the lot. Having no connection to Wales other than where he plays, he’s not even eligible to play until the final test of the series, 2nd of December vs South Africa. He’s no young buck either, but it seems Gatland wants to secure him for Wales before he gets any other ideas.
All in all, I’m excited. Do I think we’ll lose most if not all matches heavily? Yes. But do I think I’ll have fun watching it? Absolutely yes. Almost every player selected is in good form and a good number of them, especially forwards, know how to have fun with it. This may not be Wales’ most successful autumn series, but I can tell you now that a good number of these guys will be stars of the 2019 World Cup, and to me that’s what it should be about.
Front Row: N Smith, R Evans, W Jones, T Francis, S Lee, L Brown, K Dacey, K Owens, E Dee
Second Row: J Ball, AW Jones, S Davies, A Beard, C Hill
Back Row: J Tipuric, S Cross, D Lydiate, T Faletau, A Shingler, J Navidi.
Scrumhalves: G Davies, R Webb, A Davies
Flyhalves: D Biggar, R Patchell, R Priestland, O Williams
Centres: H Parkes, O Watkin, J Davies, T Morgan
Outside Backs: A Cuthbert, S Evans, H Amos; L Williams, L Halfpenny.