This week is the first week where debate over who makes Warren Gatland’s 31-man squad seriously gets going, as Wales prepare to take on England at Twickenham on Sunday.
There’s plenty of areas to focus on, but it wouldn’t be a Wales squad announcement, a World Cup squad announcement, or even a Warren Gatland squad announcement without an element of surprise.
When it comes to a bolter for this year there are a few candidates, with Leon Brown, James Davies, Jarrod Evans and Jonah Holmes all included in the training squad, but the player with arguably the best chance of making it on the plane to Japan is Owen Lane.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the 21-year-old who, as of the start of November 2017, was very much an academy player at the Arms Park, plying his trade as a burgeoning outside centre with Cardiff RFC and playing in the ill-fated Cardiff Blues Premiership Select XV’s British and Irish Cup campaign.
Fast forward just under two years though and Lane has a stunning 17 tries in 35 games across the Guinness Pro14, Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, and has earned consistently rave reviews for his performances in that time.
At just over 6ft and weighing in at 100kgs, Lane could be described as a custom made Warren Gatland winger, with his pace and power combining to offer a serious carrying threat out wide.
In 15 Pro14 starts this year he averages 42 metres of carrying, and he certainly doesn’t lack in confidence or self-belief when it comes to re-creating that form on the international stage.
More than just tearing down the wing though, Lane has the ability to be a threat right across the field.
As someone who came through the system as an outside centre, Lane is more than comfortable making a break from midfield, with an eye for a gap and that destructive ball carrying allowing him to make yards all across the pitch.
His timing is the key though, showing a maturity beyond his years to spot a breakdown in the centre of the field, leave Matthew Morgan and Rey Lee-Lo on the right hand side of the field to track across and appear behind the pod of three forwards, not allowing the defence to match up.
That work rate and timing to appear off his wing and on the shoulder of the fly-half is that little bit extra in Lane’s game that could just nudge him closer to a seat on the plane to Japan.
The cherry on top of the pie is Lane’s finishing, which has seen him score 11 tries in 18 games this season alone, making him one of the top scoring wingers in Europe on a tries-per-game ratio basis.
It’s been a repeated phrase so far in this piece, but that pace and power is tough to stop close to the line, as we see in clips above, but when he can add the ability to beat a man in open field and the athleticism to dive for the corner, he becomes a deadly finisher.
Although seemingly a real outside choice to be named in the final 31-man squad, in reality Lane should be a player who has been in and around the Wales camp for over a year now.
The likelihood is that he would have gone to the Americas in the summer of 2018, only to pick up a broken hand in the Challenge Cup Final, before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the Autumn Internationals the following November.
If he had won four or five caps he may well have been a sure bet for the World Cup squad at this point, but the truth is that he hasn’t, and questions do remain when it comes to stepping up to test match rugby.
Does he truly have the temperament to make the leap to the next level? Is he astute enough defensively up against some of the best backs in the world? Is he good enough under the high ball against teams who like to kick regularly?
All those will no doubt be answered over the next few weeks, but it would take a brave man to rule Lane out of a spot on the plane at this point.
The best part though? Even if he doesn’t make it he comes back to Cardiff Blues with three months of international training and conditioning under his belt, ready to tear up the Pro14. Whether he makes it or not, Six Nations 2020, look out for Owen Lane.