I tell you what we haven’t had enough of, international rugby!
Just three months after Wales wrapped up the summer tour of South Africa, Wayne Pivac will name his squad for the Autumn Internationals on Tuesday ahead of November games against New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and the out-of-window test against Australia.
While the summer squad was 33-men strong in a bid to replicate the numbers that will travel to France for the World Cup next year, this Autumn squad is likely to be a bit bigger with both of Pivac’s end-of-year squads in 2020 and 2021 being 38-men strong. So with that in mind I’ve had a look at which Cardiff players could fit into the bigger picture of Wales selection.
Starting up front and Rhys Carre struggled for game time in South Africa over the summer but that seems to have been a blessing in disguise for the 24-year-old who finished last season well and has kicked on again after arriving for pre-season at the Arms Park relatively well rested, building his fitness and seemingly properly getting to grips with how to use his frame effectively.
Scrummaging-wise he is improving all the time, while it is his carrying which sets him apart as his assist for the Tomos Williams try at Scarlets and his own score against Dragons shows. Gareth Thomas of the Ospreys is his main rival in that respect but has health issues having only appeared for three minutes so far this season, with clubmate Nicky Smith essentially impossible to ignore, especially with Wyn Jones looking out-of-sorts at Scarlets.
Into the second row and, hoping that the injury suffered at the Arms Park on Saturday isn’t too bad, Seb Davies again puts his hand up as he quietly impresses and improves week-on-week in all areas of his game, while retaining the core attributes that have seen him in and around the international setup previously, most recently doing well during the Six Nations before being harshly left out of the summer touring squad.
The 26-year-old is carrying a few extra kgs these days and as a result is a lot more effective in the tight when carrying, tackling, mauling and scrummaging, but has retained his speed and athleticism that means he remains a threat in open play too, especially with his offloading ability. Add in taking on increased responsibility as a lineout caller and he’s becoming a key man in blue and black.
Increasingly in the modern game the ability to switch between lock and back row is a key component of a squad, allowing them to switch from an expansive looking back five to a tighter and more physical side. That flexibility will also be key in a smaller World Cup squad, so while Davies isn’t nailed on for a Wales selection with Will Griffiths of the Ospreys and Exeter’s Christ Tshiunza in the mix, he is certainly in the conversation.
So now we arrive at the back row and it continues to be absolutely stacked! Looking at openside in particular, there’s Justin Tipuric, Jac Morgan and Tommy Reffell in the reckoning before we even get to the Cardiff options of James Botham and Thomas Young.
Botham started the season well, displaying his power and athleticism in his carrying and defensive game, grabbing tries against the Lions and Dragons as well as impressing as a lineout jumper, while Young has just edged the performance stakes in the Blue and Blacks back row with his jackal threat, physicality in his carrying and sheer pace getting around the field on both sides of the ball.
There is a very real possibility though that neither make Pivac’s squad, such is the depth in quality, with Shane Lewis-Hughes also a candidate after impressive outings in the Welsh derbies over the last week as a physical presence at openside, although the competition there is also major with Dan Lydiate, Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright in the reckoning.
Taulupe Faletau is definitely in though. He just is.
Moving on to the backs and one Cardiff player that goes in having put his hand up for a first choice slot in Pivac’s plans is Tomos Williams who, after a slightly slow start to the season, has moved up into top gear over the last week with a strong showing against Scarlets and then a man-of-the-match contender against the Dragons.
The scrum-half will once again go into an international window battling for the nine jersey with Gareth Davies and Kieran Hardy of the Scarlets, as Rhys Webb remains in the international wilderness and Rhodri Williams hasn’t quite done enough to break into the squad, but does so playing with confidence and with the added control that experience brings, while his rivals struggle for form.
Into the centre and it’s another interesting battle as, while Johnny Williams is ruled out through injury, and Jon Davies and Scott Williams have their own fitness and age battles, there are still plenty of options. Owen Watkin and Michael Collins have both been performing well in the Ospreys midfield, George North is likely to be the front runner for the 13 jersey, while Nick Tompkins is in good form at Saracens.
However, Cardiff have their own contenders as Willis Halaholo has slowly and carefully worked his way to full fitness after a match winning contribution off the bench against Munster in round one before playing crucial roles in the wins over the last week, looking sharp with ball-in-hand and particularly stepping up as a defensive leader in the absence of Rey Lee-Lo.
And joining him in the reckoning is Max Llewellyn as the 23-year-old enjoys a breakthrough season in the Blue and Blacks midfield as a hard carrying centre and defensive rock in the midfield, drawing comparisons to another former Ysgol Glantaf student who graduated into the centre at the Arms Park, and went on to shine on the international stage.
Answer: Jamie Roberts.
Finally we end on the back three, where Josh Adams could become an even more key man than he already is in this Wales squad as he is considered as a full-back option by Pivac due to the absence of Liam Williams and concerns over the fitness of Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl.
The rest of the back three ranks are a little bit up-in-the-air aside from the inclusion of Louis Rees-Zammit, with Alex Cuthbert having not played for the Ospreys, Owen Lane injured and Tom Rogers largely absent from the Scarlets side.
Keelan Giles, Ryan Conbeer and Rio Dyer have all caught the eye for their clubs, while Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell can both cover full-back, but Aled Summerhill could be a bolter after a quietly impressive start to the season at Cardiff. Quick and with enough size to earn metres after contact, he is also very assured under the high ball and with his defensive positioning, as well as having the capability to play full-back, and may just sneak on to Pivac’s radar.