Warren Gatland will announce his Wales squad for the 2018 Natwest Six Nations on Tuesday morning, with the competition set to get underway on Saturday 3rd February when Scotland arrive in Cardiff.
There are a number of injury concerns for Gatland and his coaches, as Jake Ball, Sam Warburton, Ross Moriarty, Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, Ollie Griffiths, Rhys Priestland, Jon Davies, Tyler Morgan, Cory Allen, Hallam Amos and George North are all either doubtful or definitely ruled out of the upcoming campaign.
With that in mind, I’m going to run through the Cardiff Blues candidates to make the squad, with some obvious names on the list, and other players putting their hands up as the annual ‘bolters’.
Gethin Jenkins – Starting with the evergreen loosehead, a player still a serious contender for a Wales starting spot despite recently turning 37. Having recently returned from injury Melon looked every inch the quality competitor he always has been against Toulouse, putting in a huge scrum effort during a 64 minute shift.
Rhys Gill and Brad Thyer – With Gethin likely to join Rob Evans and Nicky Smith as the loosehead options in the squad it doesn’t leave much room for anyone else. However, prop is an attritional position, and cover will likely be needed at some point.
Wyn Jones has been very impressive at the Scarlets, but Rhys Gill has been a consistent performer for around eight years now. Has missed much of this season through injury, but returned over the festive period and has the experience of winning trophies with Saracens as well as seven Wales caps.
Brad Thyer on the other hand, would represent a somewhat left field choice, but a certainly deserving one. Having recovered from a mini-stroke last season, the 24-year-old has impressed in 15 appearances during the current campaign, becoming a strong scrum option while retaining a high level of mobility.
Kris Dacey – Although Ken Owens has nailed down the number two jersey as his own, there is an interesting battle in store as the Sheriff of Carmarthen’s backup. Elliott Dee, Ryan Elias and Scott Baldwin are all in with a shout.
During the Autumn Internationals it was Dacey who was the recognised second choice though, coming off the bench in three games, and starting against Georgia. The Merthyr man is having another good season at the Arms Park, stepping up to captain Cardiff Blues on occasion, as he combines his hooking duties with a nose for the try line.
Dillon Lewis – 22-year-old Dillon made his Wales debut last summer, but missed the Autumn series through injury. Now back to fitness, Lewis has come off the bench in the last three Cardiff Blues games and showed how far he’s developed by not only continuing the solidity of the scrum against Toulouse, but actually driving them back.
With Leon Brown not having featured for the Dragons since November, there may well be an opening for Dillon as the third tighthead behind Samson Lee and Tomas Francis.
Seb Davies – The breakout star of the season has been missing the last few weeks through illness, but will be fit again by the time the Six Nations rolls around, and has to be a certainty for a spot in the squad. In my opinion he should be starting alongside Alun Wyn Jones, or at least on the bench. Not at number eight though Warren!
Josh Navidi – After a barnstorming Autumn campaign, which came as no surprise to Cardiff Blues fans, the back-rower is one of the hottest properties in Welsh rugby right now. The question is not whether he is in the squad or not, but in what position he fits into the matchday 23.
Ellis Jenkins – Following a pre-season hamstring tear, the 24-year-old has only recently returned to Cardiff Blues action with a try-scoring performance against the Scarlets, before making 20 tackles without a miss in the Toulouse game.
Wales’ stocks at flanker are vast even without Sam Warburton and possibly Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty, as Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Thomas Young, James Davies, Aaron Shingler, Olly Cracknell and James King do battle for two jerseys.
Nevertheless, with my blue-tinted glasses on, I can’t help but feel that Ellis would be challenging with Davies as the best player over the ball of the lot, as well as having the potential to captain his country one day. It’s time to unleash him in the Six Nations arena.
Josh Turnbull – The Pembrokeshire-born forward has only played once for Wales since June 2014, in a money making friendly against England back in May 2016, but since arriving at the Arms Park in summer 2014 he has been Cardiff Blues’ Mr Reliable.
In my eyes one of the most under-rated players in Wales, Turnbull is a natural blindside flanker, but his ability to cover at lock and number eight, and cover there to a high standard, could well make him an asset to the Welsh setup. At 29 he’s in the prime of his career, and 12 tackles with 11 carries against Toulouse, he may well have caught the Wales coaching staff’s eye.
Tomos Williams – Like hooker and back row, scrum half is also fiercely competitive at the moment as a number of players scrabble to replace Rhys Webb who is Toulon-bound. Webb hasn’t left yet though, and with Gareth Davies set to be his backup, it’s third choice that is up for grabs.
Aled Davies impressed during the Autumn, while Jonathan Evans and Tom Habberfield are capable 9s, but Tomos Williams has been seriously impressive in nailing down the starting spot at Cardiff Blues. Attack-minded, quick and confident, the young man still has game management learning to do, but may benefit from time around the senior squad.
Gareth Anscombe – Since arriving from New Zealand the fly-half has polarised opinion, mainly between those who have seen him play for Wales and those who watch him week-in, week-out at Cardiff Blues. After a man-of-the-match performance against Toulouse though, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
With Rhys Priestland likely to be ruled out, and Sam Davies struggling a bit for form, there may well be a spot for Anscombe in the fly-half/full-back cover role.
Garyn Smith – Now this is a left-field shout, but hear me out. Jon Davies’ injury has thrown up an issue we didn’t really notice before due to his dominance of the position, we don’t have a great stock of outside centres in Wales.
Tyler Morgan and Cory Allen are injured, as are George North and Hallam Amos who can cover there, while using Scott Williams at 13 during the Autumn felt a bit like just playing with two inside centres.
Owen Watkin may be able to assist at outside centre, but Garyn Smith is a natural 13, and has impressed both defensively and offensively when called upon this season, running some excellent lines and leading the defence. It’s unlikely, but a sign of how he’s returned from the relative obscurity of just two league and European starts last season.
Alex Cuthbert – He may be leaving come the end of the season, but there’s still time for one last tilt at the Six Nations, and the Big Horse provided a timely reminder of his supreme talents with a superb performance against Toulouse on the weekend. Both in attack and defence, Cuthy was every inch the international winger. Have that trolls!
Owen Lane – Now, cards on the table, I don’t think it would be of benefit for Lane to be called up to the Wales squad having only made his Pro14 debut at the end of November. However, if you’re going on form then two tries, and a string of impressive performances is proof of that. Let’s not rush into anything though (and keep him scoring important tries in important games for Cardiff Blues).