WHO’S IN? GATS HAS GEORGIA ON HIS MIND
WARREN Gatland has revealed he will be making a lot of changes for next Saturday’s second autumn international against Georgia. So, how will the Wales team look? Rugby correspondent Simon Thomas considers the options and comes up with a predicted starting XV.
15. Working on the basis that the majority of players who started against Australia will be rested, that points to the two prime full-back options – Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams – taking a break.
That then could open the way for Hallam Amos to wear the No 15 jersey which he has donned for the Dragons this season.
His countering from deep and ability to beat a man would add another dimension to the Welsh game.
14. With George North ruled out of the autumn internationals with a knee injury, the powerful wing option in the squad is his long-time Wales teammate Alex Cuthbert.
The 46-cap Cardiff Blues man has come in from some fearful flak from keyboard warriors over the last year or so, but no-one tries harder and, in fairness to him, he has never hid, always offering himself to carry the ball up.
13. We wait to learn the severity of Jonathan Davies’ ankle injury, but the likelihood is he may well miss the rest of the autumn campaign, which raises the question of who will play at 13?
Realistically, you are looking at either Scott Williams or Owen Watkin. Both are primarily 12s, but both can occupy the outside channel too.
Williams’ experience may well get him the nod in that context, with Watkin maybe having another outing off the bench. Scott Williams
12. Given how well Owen Williams went against Australia, there might be a temptation to allow him to build on that hugely-encouraging display and bed in further at inside centre.
But Gatland did make it clear on naming his autumn squad that he wanted to look at two different 10-12 combinations in the first two games, so, unless he has had a change of heart, that’s what we can expect to see.
Rhys Patchell hasn’t played in the centre since he lined up there for the Blues against Glasgow in December 2013, while it’s his form at fly-half with the Scarlets which has earned him his squad call. Rhys Patchell
11. It was a real mixed-bag performance from Steff Evans on his first Test start on home soil.
In an attacking sense, he transferred what we have seen him do with the Scarlets onto the international stage. He beat no fewer than nine defenders and took his try really well. But there were also a couple of costly errors too.
However, there were certainly enough positives to merit him being persevered with and what’s required is another outing to iron out the creases.
10. Like Cuthbert, Rhys Priestland has come in for some pretty brutal criticism from the public in the past, but there was general positivity about his recall to the squad, amid a recognition of just how well he has played for Bath this season.
It’s more than two years since Priestland last started a game for his country – against Uruguay in the 2015 World Cup –while it’s 18 months since his last cap. But he has fully merited this second coming and it’s a big chance for him to stake his claim for a starting spot against the All Blacks.
9. A knee injury ruled Rhys Webb out of the reckoning for the Australia game, but the hope is he will be available to face Georgia and, if he passes all the required tests, you would expect him to start.
1. Rhys Webb Back in the day, Rob Evans would have been drummed out of the front row union for some of the stuff he got up to on Saturday, but what a delight it was to watch.
Then, when he left the fray, on came Nicky Smith to make a real impact in the tight as the scrum got on top. Wales are well blessed at loosehead at the moment, with Wyn Jones an absolute workaholic waiting in the wings.
He may well get his chance off the bench against Georgia, with Smith starting, as Evans takes a breather after his exploits. Nicky Smith
2. Ken Owens is firmly established as the experienced, first-choice hooker and is odds-on to start against the All Blacks.
The Georgia game is now the opportunity to have a look at his two rookie understudies.
Kristian Dacey caught the eye with his contribution as a replacement against the Wallabies, coming within centimetres of a first Test try.
You would expect him to start this weekend, with Elliot Dee making his debut from the bench.
3. It’s a real shame that Samson Lee has been laid low with Achilles trouble because he’s been excellent for the Scarlets this season, looking lean and mean.
The latest news on him is he is unlikely to be ready for the Georgia game, leaving Wales down to two fit tightheads in Tomas Francis and Leon Brown.
Francis was on the field for 75 minutes against Australia and you can expect him to take a back seat this weekend, with the ball-carrying Brown making his first Test start.
4. There was a real changing of the guard in the second row with the announcement of the autumn squad, as we bid farewell to Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris and said hello to Seb Davies and Adam Beard.
Based on form this season, Davies is maybe just ahead in the pecking order and he certainly fits the bill in terms of what Wales are now looking for from their front five forwards. He has the handling skills of a former back and a real athleticism, both in the lineout and in the loose. Seb Davies
5. Alun Wyn Jones remains an absolutely pivotal figure as skipper and talismanic inspiration. If anything, now at 32, he seems to be getting better with age, producing a collosal performance against the Wallabies.
He will have a huge role to play versus the All Blacks, so it’s time to wrap him up in cotton wool this week and allow him to recharge his batteries.
As such, it will be an opportunity for Cory Hill to make just his third Test start and build on his positive cameo off the bench at the weekend.
6. Having been an integral part of the team for the best part of five years, Dan Lydiate has become something of a forgotten man over the past 12 months.
It’s almost a year now since he won the last of his 63 caps for Wales, with a serious knee injury sustained in that game against South Africa consigning him to a lengthy lay-off.
He, perhaps more than anyone, has a real opportunity to use this Georgia game to stake his claim for a starting spot against New Zealand.
7. The way Wales are looking to play now, keeping the ball alive, putting it through the hands and playing with width is right up Justin Tipuric’s street.
As such, fingers will be firmly crossed that he has shaken off his thigh muscle problem sufficiently to start against Georgia. Justin Tipuric
8. Taulupe Faletau crammed a season’s worth of handling errors into one game on the weekend, with a series of uncharacteristic lapses. But everyone is entitled to an off day and his class is permanent. So he will be a key man against the All Blacks and may well be kept in reserve this weekend.
Josh Navidi has played a lot of his rugby at No.8 over the last couple of years and can show off his unrivalled versatility versus the Georgians.