Every time there’s a Wales squad announcement there are always players who appear out of close to nowhere to receive a call-up into the national team squad.
Rewind a year and to many there may have been question marks over the career of Corey Domachowski. After a breakthrough campaign in 2016/17 he would go on to make just nine starts across the Guinness Pro14 and European competition over the next three seasons as he seemed to be stalling.
Then lockdown struck and the loosehead prop that returned to action in the last third of 2020 was no longer a player with potential but a bona fide first team starter who looked strong but retained his athleticism.
There was a maturity to his play, perhaps coming from fatherhood, perhaps as a result of re-focusing over lockdown, that has led to him becoming a key member of the Cardiff Blues squad and his form now pushes him into consideration for the Wales squad quicker than even the most optimistic supporter of his might have thought.
At times in recent years it has felt like the Welsh squad has moved it’s props away from the basic requirement to be a top level scrummager, favouring other aspects of the game such as carrying and jackaling, before coming back to selecting the likes of Wyn Jones and Samson Lee when the set piece starts to falter.
Domachowski offers more than solidity at the scrum as part of one of the best set pieces in the Guinness Pro14 over the last 18 months, and that this season alone has won 13 penalties. With his added strength his technique offers a really strong base to push from, rarely getting caught over-extending which allows him to get a shove on even if the opposition get the upper hand on the initial engagement.
Looking at the final two clips in particular, the Ospreys put him on the back foot to start but he holds his shape and then uses his power to win the penalties. That power also comes in handy around the field.
We haven’t seen much of Domachowski’s carrying game this season as Cardiff Blues have spent most of the campaign defending and on the back foot, however against the Scarlets last time out he showed what a threat he can be with ball-in-hand.
Of course the sitting down of Marc Jones was the highlight reel carry, but I want to focus on the second clip and how he displayed an understanding of his role in an attacking game plan.
Standing at first receiver he has the option of shifting the ball on to James Ratti on his shoulder or pulling it back for Jarrod Evans, but with Dan Jones and Johnny Williams pushing up quickly he holds on to possession and targets a weak shoulder to get go forward and, crucially, quick ball. The presentation allows Tomos Williams to play fast and the next phase is the Rey Lee-Lo try.
Defensively is where his work rate really shows as in 10 Pro14 games this season, seven starts and three appearances off the bench, he has made 88 tackles. That is the 13th most in the league as a whole and 2nd in the prop ranks with only Brok Harris of the Dragons making more.
A lot of his defensive work comes around the fringe of the breakdown where that power is shown off again, driving the ball carrier back behind the gain line in each of the clips. Particularly impressive is the final clip where he adjusts his feet late, maintaining his shape to make the big tackle on the fast moving Connacht carrier.
Domachowski has that extra defensive weapon as well though, the Gethin Jenkins special in his locker.
With three turnovers to his name this season he can offer the threat over the ball that Wales have largely lacked under Wayne Pivac so far, and present the opportunity to show what we can do in broken play where the Scarlets under the New Zealander were so impressive.
On the whole loosehead is a hotly contested position in the Welsh squad, especially when all options are fit. Wyn Jones, Rob Evans, Nicky Smith and Rhys Carre are all very talented players and each bring slightly different strengths to the table.
This time round though, with Evans sidelined, Domachowski could have an eye on Carre’s spot in the squad. His Cardiff Blues team-mate has had some scrum struggles during the Autumn and is actually behind Domachowski in the pecking order at club level.
It’s important to remember Carre is still only 22 and has started just 11 top level games encompassing just seven at club level with Cardiff Blues and Saracens, and then four in red on the international stage. It may well be the case that he is better off staying at the Arms Park and getting consistent minutes under his belt over the next two months to aid his development.
There would then be an opportunity to reward Domachowski for his good form, get him into an international environment and see if he can put pressure on Smith and Jones for the number one jersey. A good competition would be had, if Pivac were to select him.