Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad for the 2021 Autumn Series of games against New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia will be named on Wednesday afternoon at 1pm.
Ahead of that I’ve taken a look at which Cardiff players could be in the frame for a call-up as eyes begin to switch towards the World Cup in two years, as well as defending the Six Nations title in the more immediate future.
Starting up front and Rhys Carre may well fancy a recall to the squad having missed out on the summer internationals squad. A strong showing off the bench against Connacht in round one was followed up by him overcoming a scrum wobble to win two big penalties early in the second half against Ospreys, and then his performance against Bulls was his best both in the set piece and the loose for some time.
With Wyn Jones back in contention after the British & Irish Lions tour there are two spots likely available for loosehead props in Pivac’s squad. Nicky Smith is likely to take one, but with Gareth Thomas and Rhodri Jones featuring sparingly for the Ospreys so far this season it may come down to Carre and Rob Evans for the final spot, with Corey Domachowski not quite in contention on this occasion.
On the tighthead there is an opening for Dillon Lewis as a more mobile option off the bench, as he showed his quality in open play against Connacht in round one. He has struggled at scrum time so far this season though, admittedly as part of a lighter Cardiff pack, but with Leon Brown not appearing for the Dragons yet he should get the nod alongside Tomas Francis and one of WillGriff John or Samson Lee.
Into the second row and it’s Matthew Screech leading the way for the Blue and Blacks in this area as he has slotted back in comfortably at the Arms Park. A willing carrier, competent lineout caller and solid maul defender, he could well slot in alongside Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands and Ben Carter if Pivac goes down the five lock route, with Seb Davies missing out after an inconsistent start to the season.
The back row then is an area of injury woes as both James Botham and Josh Navidi will miss out with shoulder problems, while Shane Lewis-Hughes will struggle to be in contention having not played yet this season.
Josh Turnbull continues to put his hand up for selection with his never-ending run of excellent performances at blindside flanker, while also being able to cover lock and number eight, while Ellis Jenkins has returned from his long-term knee injury with all of the international quality that saw him captain Wales pre-injury in 2018. The only question will be whether his body is ready for a return to that level.
At scrum-half it should now be beyond question that Tomos Williams is the best scrum-half in Wales, even from a biased point-of-view, with a particularly quality performance against Connacht. The likelihood is that it will be Kieran Hardy and Gareth Davies joining him in the squad, but Lloyd Williams has started the season sharply and certainly comes into the conversation alongside Rhodri Williams.
Joining him at half-back could well be both of Jarrod Evans and Rhys Priestland ahead of the New Zealand game where Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy are unavailable. Rhys Patchell continues to be sidelined and Gareth Anscombe has only just returned from two years out, leaving Sam Davies and Sam Costelow as the only other fit options for Pivac.
Evans will likely return against Dragons a week on Saturday having lasted 20 minutes against Connacht in round one, but his quality is undoubted, while Priestland has looked fit for Cardiff so far this season and is the closest to a direct Biggar replacement if that is what is required against the All Blacks.
Into the centre and Willis Halaholo is as close to a nailed on selection as it gets after a strong start to the season, particularly showing off his improved range of distribution. He could be joined by club-mate Ben Thomas, who looked composed on his international debut in the summer and has been sharp the last two games, as with Johnny Williams not yet appearing for the Scarlets and Nick Tompkins unavailable for the New Zealand game there are spaces to be taken in midfield.
Then in the back three it is likely that all three of the players who have started each game for the Blue and Blacks so far this season; Josh Adams, Owen Lane and Hallam Amos, will be named. Adams is a shoe-in, while Lane has a chance to start against the All Blacks with George North injured and Louis Rees-Zammit unavailable.
At full-back then Amos could be up for a run of games if he impresses in training and on-the-field with Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams currently sidelined. Jonah Holmes and Johnny McNicholl will likely be his main competition, but a man-of-the-match showing against Argentina in the summer will undoubtedly count in his favour.