IT would once have been considered sacrilege to suggest Leigh Halfpenny should be left out of the Wales team. But what odds – on the basis of what we have seen this autumn – Warren Gatland will see it as a viable option come next year’s Six Nations? In all truth, he has to. Halfpenny is a wonderful player, as humble an individual as you could wish to meet and was named by recently by Gatland as the most professional person the Kiwi has worked with since he took charge in 2008.
But when it comes to the fluid, instinctive counter-attacking threat that modern fullbacks must offer – and especially in a Wales team that is finally embracing a change in VIEW FROM THE PRESS BOX style – the former Toulon man is presently coming up short.
The intent has been there from Halfpenny this last month. He’s attempted to run the ball back at various opposition on numerous occasions.
Yet he very rarely seems to go through gaps. He is not the sort to set alarm bells ring- ing when he embarks on a run from deep.
Halfpenny, of course, has a whole load of other qualities. Defensively he is solid, under the high ball he is reliable, his positional sense is spot on and we know that as a goalkicking marksman he has few equals anywhere on the planet.
But Gatland needs that strike-running capability from No.15 if Wales are to become more potent in attack, something they obviously need to do.
So who do you pick to in the back three to face Scotland in the opening match of the Six Nations?
I would go with Liam Williams at full-back, George North – assuming he is fit again – on one wing and Hallam Amos on the other.
Williams we know all about. He is unpredictable and has a proven track record for slithering through the tightest defences.
North we know all about. Fit and firing he remains a class above his rivals for the jersey and before he sustained his current knee injury he was going great gun for Northampton.
Amos? The Dragons trainee doctor has come of age in this campaign.
He began it with plenty of question marks around whether he had what it takes to perform consistently at international level. But Amos has shown he does have what it takes with some intelligent, eye-catching displays.
Back at the start of last month, most of the excitement was around what Steff Evans might bring to the international party.
Evans’ superb form for the Scarlets had people hailing him as a potential weapon for Gatland. But while he has given it his all, his limitations have been exposed.
He lacks out-and-out gas, which was more apparent than ever against South Africa, and he gets turned over too easily.
Evans does have a Test future, but he is not ready to be a go-to player for Gatland yet, not by a long chalk.
Halfpenny has been just that for many a season now, but just as Jamie Roberts has found himself a victim of a changing outlook style-wise, so too is his former Blues team mate under pressure to adapt, and quickly.
Gatland, with someone like Dan Biggar in the side, is not bound to pick Halfpenny for his goalkicking.
So, the coach must think long and hard about whether he is still the best full-back option all things considered.
With North, Williams and Amos at his disposal, it’s highly questionable whether that will be the case come the Six Nations.