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A Welsh Exiled XV

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Picking an Exiled Wales XV

The WRU’s national team eligibility rule around non-Welsh based players has brought a number of high profile players back into the regional rugby fold. However, there are still multiple Welsh players still plying their trade elsewhere. 

Here, RugbyPass picks its Welsh Exiled XV, a team featuring 14 players based in England and one in France.

15 – LIAM WILLIAMS (Saracens)

Started in his preferred position during the 2019 Six Nations and played such an outstanding role in the Grand Slam that he may well retain the 15 jersey going forward. He moved to Saracens to live with his girlfriend and win more trophies, which he has certainly done, adding to the English champions’ already-lethal aerial game. Despite only having 56 caps, he remains eligible for Wales because he signed his contract before the 60-cap was introduced.

14 – ALEX CUTHBERT (Exeter Chiefs)

He moved from Cardiff Blues to Exeter to rediscover his form after a difficult few years in the goldfish bowl of Welsh rugby, deliberately removing himself from selection as he only had 47 Test caps. He has not rediscovered the form that made him such a threat in 2013’s Six Nations title-title-winning season, but he is enjoying his rugby again and is well-liked in England’s south-west.

13 – ASHLEY BECK (Worcester Warriors)

For a long time, Beck was touted as the future of the Welsh midfield due to his creativity and pace. However, a series of injuries meant he never got more than seven caps despite making his debut in 2012, and his move to Worcester from Ospreys means he won’t get any more unless he returns to Wales. Injuries, though, continue to hamper him.

12 – OWEN WILLIAMS (Gloucester)

Another player who was often considered a bright prospect for a more creative Welsh midfield. Williams’ issue was more inconsistency than injuries. He looked to be Jamie Roberts’ long-term replacement at 12 in 2017 before Hadleigh Parkes made his debut and never looked back. Williams has only three caps and seems unlikely to add more any time soon.

11 – JONAH HOLMES (Leicester Tigers)

Stockport-born Holmes was a surprise call-up during the 2018 autumn internationals but was retained for the Six Nations and RWC training squads. He is uncertain to make the World Cup considering Wales’ back three depth, but he has serious pace and has shown himself able to defend. He usually plays at full-back for his club but has featured on the wing as well. Holmes remains eligible for Wales selection while his current Leicester contract lasts.

10 – DAN BIGGAR (Northampton Saints)

There are a number of Welsh fly-halves abroad but Dan Biggar, hero of the last World Cup, is surely the foremost. Like Cuthbert, he exited Wales to get out of the limelight of living there and give himself a chance of domestic trophies elsewhere. His playing style has become noticeably more attacking under Saints coach Chris Boyd and he played a significant part in the English club’s recent revival where they reached the Premiership play-offs. With 70 caps, he remains eligible for Wales wherever he plays.

9 – RHYS WEBB (Toulon)

The only player on this list based in France, Webb is the highest profile casualty of the 60-cap eligibility rule and by far the most controversial. Like Liam Williams, he claimed he had signed for Toulon before the rule was in place. He hasn’t shown his full ability in a struggling Toulon side and now seems resigned to missing the World Cup even though many Wales fans are hoping Warren Gatland might still find a loophole for the 31-cap player.

1 – RHYS CARRE (Saracens)

Another example of the loopholes in the Welsh-eligibility rule, Carre traded the mentorship of Gethin Jenkins at Cardiff Blues for Mako Vunipola and the higher likelihood of success with Saracens. The talented youngster has been selected in Wales’ RWC training squad and may well get playing time in the warm-ups as he is also English-qualified and Wales will want to keep him. He will remain Welsh-eligible throughout his Saracens contract as he was uncapped when he signed for the Londoners. 

2 – SCOTT BALDWIN (Harlequins)

He rotated with Ken Owens at the last World Cup and was on a national dual contract before falling out of favour and switching to London. Infamously known for his lion-taming attempt in South Africa, the 34-cap hooker has a solid all-round game and works hard.

3 – TOMAS FRANCIS (Exeter Chiefs)

Eligible through his grandmother, Francis has never played club rugby in Wales. Various Welsh attempts to regulate eligibility have always seen him slip through the net, most recently when Exeter activated an extension clause in his contract rather than offering him a new one, demonstrating another loophole in the rule. Francis leads a growing Welsh contingent in the south-west of England, but he may have to play in Wales eventually if he wants to maintain his international career.

4 – TOM PRICE (Exeter Chiefs)

The return of Bradley Davies and the retirement of Luke Charteris mean there aren’t many Welsh second rows playing outside the country. Price played in England’s 2013 Junior World Championship team but he is Welsh-qualified through his grandfather. He joined Exeter after three years at Scarlets and is uncapped. 

5 – CHRIST TSHIUNZA (Exeter Chiefs)

Another player who is primarily known because his move exposed a loophole in the eligibility rule. Tshiunza is only 18 but extremely highly rated. He starred for Wales’ Under-20s, his combination of athleticism and physicality exciting coaches and observers. He turned down an academy contract with Cardiff Blues to move to Exeter for personal reasons. He remains eligible for Wales because he is uncapped but he is also English- and French-qualified through his parents.

6 – SAM LEWIS (Worcester Warriors)

Born and bred in Swansea, Lewis has been playing his rugby in England for four seasons. Although his lack of caps means he could still play for Wales, he is also eligible for England through his mother. He tends to play on the openside but the plethora of poachers that Wales have means many of their sevens also play on the blindside. England are developing their own depth at openside but they are still some way behind Wales on that front, so Lewis may find Eddie Jones more likely to come calling than Wales.

7 – THOMAS YOUNG (Wasps)

He is indicative of Wales’ rich options at openside. One of the best sevens in the English Premiership for years he has struggled to break into the Welsh side. His current absence from the RWC training squad is injury-related but Gatland has hinted a number of times that Young’s lack of availability while playing in England has hindered his international opportunities.

8 – TAULUPE FALETAU (Bath)

His departure from Dragons to Bath in 2016 arguably prompted a review of the eligibility system as a national dual contract was not enough to keep him. Faletau has struggled with injuries over the past year but – when fit – he is one of the best players in the world in his position as he proved on two British and Irish Lions tours. His 72-caps means eligibility is not an issue for him and he is a key member of the Welsh leadership team.

WATCH: Part one of the two-part RugbyPassdocumentary on the many adventures that Welsh fans can expect to experience in Japan at this year’s World Cup

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Picking an Exiled Wales XV