Crashball Rugby's Jack Rees stamps the facts, the questions and notably inclusions in England's and Wales' summer tours. In this first part of his feature, Jack addresses Wales.
This summer will see England & Wales travel to South Africa & Argentina, via Washington DC for a game against the Springboks, respectively. Far from being at their best over the last few years, the Pumas & Springboks are both still proud nations that are notoriously difficult places to tour. With time counting down to next year’s World Cup, I take a look at how both countries will use these tours to prepare and what both teams will be looking to achieve.
In an interesting turn of events, in contrast to their English counterparts, Wales’ Lions contingent have been allowed the summer off while Eddie Jones’ star players will go hammer and tong down in South Africa. Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Leigh Halfpenny, etc will all be taking the time off to rejuvenate after a tough eighteen months. With Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Jake Ball and Liam Williams also missing from the squad after their injury troubles this season, Wales really do have a changed look about them.
A second place finish in this year’s Six Nations was a good result for the Welsh team but poor performances against Ireland and England away at the Aviva Stadium & Twickenham will be of concern, especially after such a strong opening performance against Scotland. There still seems to be an uncertainty around the way in which Warren Gatland wants his side to play, with all the talk of playing a more expansive & attacking game-plan, they do seem to revert back to one out runners & relying heavily on their defence/ fitness to wear down teams. This tour should be seen as the perfect opportunity to make sure there is no doubt of how they want to play.
With the World Cup around the corner, Warren Gatland’s decision to rest so many of his front line players should be seen as a positive and could potentially pay dividends in the long run. It creates a genuine opportunity for players to stake a claim for a starting jersey and we will finally see if Wales truly have the strength in depth to compete in the latter stages of next year’s show-piece in Japan.
The perfect mix
I believe Wales have enough experienced campaigners mixed with a crop of players that deserve these opportunities to win all three games. However, the teams performance will count for more than results themselves. Possibly a strange outlook for an international team and obviously not what the Welsh coaches will be telling their players, but a strong performance in an incredibly hostile environment must be seen as a huge positive for a team missing over 700 caps when you include the late withdrawals of Luke Charteris, Tomas Francis, Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi.
As the Welsh team acclimatise to their new surroundings in Washington, the coaching team will be eager to see a number of these players step up, not only on the field come match day but as leaders during training and off the field activities. So as we look ahead there is definitely a number of questions that Gatland will want answered by the time they arrive back in Cardiff.
Ones to watch
Who will put their hand up to be included in next year’s World Cup squad? What will the fly half picture look like after the tour? Why Hadleigh Parkes has to wear the Welsh number twelve shirt?
The opportunity is there, but the biggest question soon to be answered is who is going to step up and grab it? I believe that there are two players who could could make a huge impact for Wales moving forward; Seb Davies and Hallam Amos.
Davies, and athletic and naturally gifted Blues second rower is the perfect fit for how they would like to play. He has the size to make an impact at scrum time and his work come line-out time is strong. What stands out most is his work around the park. He is incredibly comfortable with ball-in-hand and has a superb offload. The fact that Gatland chose him at number eight against Georgia last November shows he is seen as a back five option.
Amos, the Dragons full back, seems to have been around for a long time. A debut as a 19-year-old against Tonga back in 2013 seemed to suggest a bright future for the young man but injuries have severely hampered his chances over the years. With Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams rested from the Welsh squad, the now 23-year-old finally has a chance to stake a claim for the number fifteen jersey. He has incredibly good footwork, is comfortable taking the ball at first receiver and his left foot kicking is an added bonus. He may not start at next year’s World Cup but he could end up being an important member of the squad.
The iconic number ten shirt, the most scrutinised shirt in Wales. For so long Dan Biggar has been Warren Gatland’s preferred choice. He has been his lieutenant on the field. Dependable, tough and Gatland trusted him to execute the game plan. However, according to the Welsh coaches the game plan has changed. In Biggar’s absence, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe will be given the opportunity to state their claim to take charge.
Patchell has been a revelation since moving to the Scarlets in 2016. The 25-year-old is confident running the ball at the line, and creates a lot of space for his outside backs with his smart passing game. At 6’3 he isn’t a slouch in defence, either. He did have a tough game against England at Twickenham during the Six Nations but seems to be back in his stride and will undoubtedly learn from the experience.
Anscombe, an under-20 World Championship winner with New Zealand, was supposed to be the man to oust Biggar from the number ten jersey when he arrived from Auckland. It hasn’t exactly worked out the way Gatland had envisaged. One of the main contributing factors is the fact the former Waikato Chiefs man has been switched between fly half and fullback for the Blues, and the odd error at times hasn’t helped matters. All of that being said, Anscombe is a very talented and smart rugby player. He creates opportunities that a lot of fly halves wouldn’t even see. I believe he still has time and deserves the opportunity to make the Welsh number ten shirt his own.
A mention for Jarrod Evans, the man currently keeping Anscombe out of the Blues fly half position, it was a surprise not to see his name in the squad but his time will definitely come post-World Cup.
Does Hadleigh Parkes ever make a mistake? The man from Hunterville New Zealand has rarely put a foot wrong since he arrived in Llanelli four-years ago. Granted, he isn’t the biggest or the fastest and yes he is 30-years-old. The fact of the matter is he always seems to be the calming influence that all coaches would love to have in their team. He carries well, is incredibly sound in defence and has a decent kicking game when needed. Wales have plenty of players that are capable of winning games and show flashes of brilliance, Parkes though, just needs be their steer the ship.
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