On the one hand, the upcoming Wales fixture against the Barbarians is clear a money spinner in a Rugby World Cup year, which is tough financially on many nations, and a chance to give Warren Gatland a well-deserved goodbye. None of the England-based players are eligible for selection and, unusually for Wales, the game is uncapped. Those factors might make it seem fairly uninteresting.
On the other hand, this game is full of fascinating narratives and opportunities. It is Wayne Pivac’s first opportunity as Wales coach, against the nation’s most successful coach of the modern era. Pivac was picked, in part, because of his success in bringing back attacking flair as well as winning ways to Scarlets – something many Wales fans have long yearned for under Gatland.
Gatland, for his part, will want to show that, under the right circumstances, he is more than capable of coaching a side with a thrilling attack. Pivac’s options are further complicated by the fact that many of the regular international players are injured after a gruelling RWC campaign and the need to start bringing through new players for this RWC cycle. The preliminary 35-man squad he has selected has an average age of 25 and only seven players in it have more than 40 caps.
All this means that Pivac has to pick a more inexperienced side than he might like, that is capable of playing the flair game expected of his reign, against a man with a point to prove, in front of a packed Principality Stadium. It is much more than a chance for him to get a look at players who might feature in the upcoming Six Nations and beyond, although that is also a serious consideration.
For many Wales fans, a “win” would be a high-scoring, attack-focused game with some promising new talent on show and possibly even one final victory for Gatland in Cardiff.
With all that in mind, RugbyPass has selected a Welsh XV that might do the job.
15. Johnny McNicholl, Scarlets (0 caps)
Pivac will know all about newly-eligible McNicholl’s ability, having recruited him for the Scarlets, but this would be a good stepping stone to see if he can cut it at the next level, as well as an excellent test of his defence. At 29 years old, McNicholl is a little old for a debutant outside back but Wales are a team who can always do with more depth.
‘By accident or design, Pivac will hope for the bounce of the ball in the next ten weeks. Thirteen Scarlets for the Italy game? He wouldn’t dare, would he?’
– @OwainJTJones runs the rule over Wayne Pivac’s Wales resources heading into the 2020 Six Nations https://t.co/oKs8loqSxz
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 14, 2019
14. Owen Lane, Cardiff Blues (1 cap)
Steff Evans is another player who Pivac is familiar with from his time at Scarlets but he might prefer to see what Lane can do, with his pace and finishing ability. Lane is an exciting talent and could be especially important given George North’s relatively quiet form of late.
13. Hadleigh Parkes, Scarlets (23 caps)
Halaholo’s class and flair would make him a perfect player to take on the BaaBaas but he is another one to be ruled out by injury. Before his Wales call-up, parkes regularly played at 13 for Scarlets under Pivac and doing so again here would allow Watkin to play 12.
12. Owen Watkin, Ospreys (21 caps)
Hadleigh Parkes might be the obvious choice as a steady hand but Watkin looks to be the future of the Welsh midfield and deserves the chance to start. Didn’t get much time in his preferred position of inside centre during the Rugby World Cup but should start there more often from now on.
11. Ashton Hewitt, Dragons (0 caps)
Another promising youngster whose international opportunities have been repeatedly curtailed by injuries. The Dragons winger has serious pace, capable of hitting speeds over 40m that would equate to a 10.3sec 100m. Josh Adams has proved himself on the left wing but Wales need back-up.
10. Jarrod Evans, Cardiff Blues (1 cap)
Not a difficult one to pick, with Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell injured and Dan Biggar unavailable. There are concerns about Evans’ game management but he has shown that he can thrive in broken field play and there should be plenty of that in this game. Sam Davies has regained some form this season and would be a slightly more experienced alternative.
9. Tomos Williams, Cardiff Blues (15 caps)
The young No9 showed his ability repeatedly during the RWC and he should make an exciting combo with his regional half-back partner if they can let loose. He is also more than capable in defence, which is likely to come in useful.
Welsh talent ID in England is nothing new but with a new seam of gifted players plying their trade over the border, the battle to wear red or white shows no signs of letting up
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2019
1. Rob Evans, Scarlets (35 caps)
Perfect for a game against the Barbarians, a loosehead who looks like he could play flyhalf, a player that Pivac knows well, and one who surprisingly missed out on world cup selection after injury troubles. This selection is a no-brainer.
2. Ken Owens, Scarlets (captain, 71 caps)
With Alun-Wyn Jones injured, Owens is the obvious candidate for captaincy. He had a lot of gametime during the RWC but that won’t stop him playing his heart out yet again and leading this relatively inexperienced side with aplomb.
3. Leon Brown, Dragons (4 caps)
Samson Lee might seem the obvious choice here but Pivac already knows what he has to offer at test level and Lee’s ball-handling skills aren’t at the same level as fellow Scarlets prop Evans. Pivac and his fellow coaches may want to see what Brown can do before the Six Nations.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 27, 2019
4. Jake Ball, Scarlets (41 caps)
The Scarlets’ second row had a thoroughly impressive tournament in Japan, showing his ability to plough through the dirty work, but he is also comfortable on the ball so he is an excellent option in this kind of game.
5. Seb Davies, Cardiff Blues (6 caps)
Another promising youngster, Davies has mostly been asked to demonstrate his versatility for Wales by playing at No8. Here he gets a chance in his most common position to show what he can do to displace Adam Beard. A big performance from him could go a long way.
6. Ollie Griffiths, Dragons (1 cap)
The backrow is an area where Wales have extraordinary depth, even accounting eligibility and injuries. Griffiths has struggled with injuries but has long been highly-rated and this is a great opportunity for him to show the new coach he can be part of his future plans.
7. Justin Tipuric, Ospreys (71 caps)
As always, there will be half-serious jokes that Tipuric could play in the centres against the BaaBaas – and he probably could. But he wouldn’t play as well as he can on the flank. Taine Basham, who has had an excellent start for Dragons, deserves proper time off the bench.
8. Aaron Wainwright, Dragons (18 caps)
He played himself into the starting Welsh XV over the summer but suggestions that his appearances in the RWC “capped” his rise are wide of the mark. Wainwright looks capable of much more and No8, where he can use his footwork and intelligence as well as his impressive engine, might be the place for him to do it.
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