Warren Gatland announces his last Autumn Internationals squad as Wales head coach on Tuesday before his departure from the role following next year’s World Cup.
Games against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa await this November, with the interesting aspect being that the Scottish game is outside of the international window, ruling out English-based players such as Thomas Young, Josh Adams and Liam Williams.
After a slow start to the season, Cardiff Blues form has picked up in recent weeks as we’ve recorded four straight wins including a big scoreline over Munster, a tough battle at Dragons and an important victory over Lyon in the Heineken Cup.
As a result a number of players have put their hands up for selection this November, in what could well be the last chance for those who have few or no caps to get into Gatland’s plans before the Six Nations begins and then the plane to Japan leaves.
Starting up front, Brad Thyer is one of those players who has not featured in any Wales squads up until now, but may harbour an outside ambition of sneaking into a squad this Autumn as a backup to arguably the best loosehead prop in the Northern Hemisphere, Rob Evans.
The 25-year-old has been heavily involved in the first team under John Mulvihill so far this season, starting four games and coming off the bench on two occasions, and has impressed with a mix of strong scrummaging and mobility around the field in what is his first real taste as a regular starter.
Starting next to him on each occasion, and indeed every game so far this season, has been Kristian Dacey, with two tries to the name and back to his barnstorming best around the Arms Park after a back injury restricted his performances at the back end of 2017/18.
That niggle saw him sit out the summer tour to the Americas after missing out on the Six Nations, meaning the last of his eight caps so far came against South Africa last Autumn.
Once again it’s a Scarlet who has nailed down the starting spot, with Ken Owens the undoubted number one choice at hooker, but behind them there’s a real chance for Dacey to get the nod in a battle with Ryan Elias, Scott Baldwin and Elliott Dee as a backup.
Completing the all-Scarlet front row is Samson Lee, but with tighthead a position of relative weakness in the Wales squad, there are two Cardiff Blues names who could make it into Gatland’s thinking.
Dillon Lewis was a real breakout star on the summer tour with some big performances against Argentina, and although he perhaps didn’t have the game time he would have desired in the early part of the season, a huge showing against Lyon on the weekend has put him right in contention.
Three turnovers at the breakdown and some key carries were pivotal moments in the game and will be crucial at international level. Admittedly the scrum was on the back foot all day, but he has shown his ability at the set piece earlier in the season, and with Alun Wyn Jones behind him rather than a converted flanker, he will be fine.
An outside bet for a backup tighthead spot is Scott Andrews, with the 29-year-old an option for the experience ahead of Tomas Francis who will be unavailable against Scotland.
Bubba has featured in all three home games so far this season, and is undoubtedly one of the best props in the loose that Wales have, with a consistently high tackle and carry count, as well as being a big presence at the attacking breakdown in securing possession.
Scrummaging is a weakness though, and although it’s improved after an impressive stint with Bath last season, Gatland may even opt for a young tighthead trio with a nod for Leon Brown of the Dragons.
Moving back in the pack and the versatility of two Cardiff Blues forwards may play in their favour. Seb Davies has been out of action since tearing his PCL against Leinster on the opening day, but is in line to return in time for November and having been involved in the last three squads, could well still get the nod.
The 22-year-old is very much the future of the post-World Cup Wales team, but his ability to cover at flanker and number eight makes him an option, as does his footballing and handling skills.
Josh Turnbull meanwhile is the very definition of reliable, starting all seven games so far this season and turning in committed performances at lock, blindside and number eight.
A tackle machine and an experienced lineout operator, he is a definite contender alongside the likes of Seb, Cory Hill, Adam Beard, Jake Ball and James King to partner Alun Wyn and offer versatility from the bench.
That is an interesting battle, but nothing in comparison to the back row where Wales have an embarrassment of riches. Even though Taulupe Faletau and James Davies are injured, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Thomas Young and Ollie Griffiths are all in contention for a spot in the squad.
At Cardiff Blues we have a similarly intense battle, with the Welsh boys in the shape of Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi leading the way.
25-year-old Ellis was the co-captain on the summer tour to the Americas, and has earned rave reviews over the last year for his consistently high quality performances. He is arguably the best jackal that Wales currently have.
Navidi on the other hand has an almost complete skillset, as a dynamic ball carrier, brilliant defender and more then effective jackal. Since breaking on to the international scene last November he has been consistently the most impressive player in the Wales squad, and is a shoe-in on many people’s team sheets.
Moving into the backs, and at half-back there could well be two representatives from the Arms Park who could add a real dynamism to the style of play.
Tomos Williams and Gareth Anscombe are not exactly the type of players that spring to mind when you think of a Wales team under Warren Gatland, but the way the game is going they are exactly the type of players that could be crucial over the next 12 months.
Attack-minded, they play the game at a tempo that could do real damage to teams the size of South Africa and Tonga, and in a way that so brilliantly took apart Scotland in last season’s Six Nations.
Both were in fine form as we beat Lyon in the Heineken Cup on the weekend, and deserve a chance to show what they can do on the international stage this August, with other Welsh half-backs either injured or out-of-form.
The final Cardiff Blues candidate is one who really should have won his first cap last summer, only to suffer injury in the Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao, and for a second on Sunday it appeared Owen Lane might miss out again as he limped around the field in Lyon.
However reports are suggesting his injury is not serious and he could play against Glasgow this weekend, leaving him more than in contention to win a spot in the Wales squad, especially with the likes of Liam Williams and Josh Adams unavailable to face Scotland, and Steff Evans struggling for form.
Still only 21 he has scored eight tries in 17 Pro14 games so far in his career, and has a deadly combination of power, pace and a rugby brain that picks some superb running lines of his wing.
A centre in the long-term no doubt, exposing Lane to international rugby now will do him no harm as he has passed every test with flying colours in his career to date.
It’s an exciting time for Wales fans, with Warren Gatland enjoying some real strength in depth at the moment and the chance to pick a squad that can really entertain. The crucial question, does he have the bottle to do so?