With the Rugby World Cup now just 10 months away the eyes of the rugby world are slowly starting to turn to Japan 2019 as the nineteen tames qualified thus far begin to make pre-tournament preparations.
For many this begin with the Autumn Internationals over the next four weeks, as the Southern Hemisphere nations travel North for some huge showdowns. Players will be keen to impress coaches and coaches will be keen to see players settle into squads and combinations, as chances to get things right reduce by the week.
It is no different in Wales, where Warren Gatland prepares for his final November in charge of the men in red before stepping down after the World Cup for Wayne Pivac to take over.
Looking to catch the eye of the New Zealander and win a place on the plane from Cardiff to Japan are five Cardiff Blues players named in the squad this Autumn, with Seb Davies, Josh Navidi and Owen Lane unlucky to miss out due to injuries.
Dillon Lewis made a real impression on the summer tour of the Americas at tighthead, a position that Wales have struggled at in terms of depth since Adam Jones was moved along a few years back.
However, Lewis has stepped and shown himself to be a real contender to push Samson Lee for the number three jersey, combining solid scrummaging technique with mobility around the field that actually makes him more of a threat at the defensive breakdown than some flankers.
One flanker who does get the better of him in terms of the jackal is Ellis Jenkins though, who co-captained the summer’s touring squad and has been a standout player in a massively competitive position over the last year in Wales.
The aforementioned Navidi as well as James Davies are both injured this November though, and with Sam Warburton now retired and neither Thomas Young or Ollie Griffiths selected, it gives Ellis the chance to nail down a spot hopefully opposite Justin Tipuric in a dual openside back row.
Behind them there is a chance we’ll see an all-Cardiff Blues half-back pairing, and maybe even a 9,10,15 axis in the first game of the Autumn against Scotland, with Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe and late call-up Jarrod Evans all in the squad.
For scrum-half Williams there is a chance to put pressure on Aled Davies of the Ospreys and Gareth Davies of the Scarlets, who have been seen as the natural first and second choice without really being challenged since Rhys Webb went to France.
Anscombe too has a chance to rock the norm, with Dan Biggar having to adjust to life in Northampton and perhaps losing a bit of favour with Gatland for playing ‘overseas’, while Rhys Patchell has had injury problems so far this season.
On the flip side, Evans will use November as a great experience after showing real promise over the last 12 months. After being unfortunate to miss out on being named in the summer squad, he now gets the chance to properly taste the Wales environment.
His international career will likely take off post-World Cup, but for now all experience is good experience and will stand him in good stead long term.
Scotland – 3rd November – 14:45
Australia – 10th November – 17:20
Tonga – 17th November – 14:30
South Africa – 24th November – 17:20
Away from Wales there are three Cardiff Blues players in action for other national teams, starting with Blaine Scully and Samu Manoa who will head off for duty with the United States national team.
Both men will miss the Eagles first game of November with the encounter against New Zealand Maori falling outside the international window, but will join up with the squad for the game against Samoa in San Sebastian, before travelling to Bucharest to take on Romania and then Ireland in Dublin.
USA Eagles fixtures
Maori All Blacks – 3rd November – 22:15
Samoa – 10th November – 17:30
Romania – 17th November – 12:00
Ireland – 24th November – 18:30
They will likely face a familiar face in that first game, with Rey Lee-Lo having been named in the Samoa squad this November.
After that USA game they travel to Tbilisi for a tough test against Georgia, before returning to Spain where they will face the Spanish national team in Madrid.
USA Eagles – November 10th – 17:30
Georgia – November 17th – 14:00
Spain – November 24th – 14:45