The Future of Rugby: Wales U23
Head coach Wayne Pivac will have to look to plenty of these talented youngsters as he aims to build a squad capable of challenging for the Rugby World Cup in 2023, especially as a number of the nations’ incumbents could well have played in their last tournament out in Japan in 2019.
For the purposes of the XV below, only players aged 23 or younger on May 1st 2020 were considered eligible.
- Ioan Lloyd, Bristol Bears
Wales doesn’t lack for silky running full-backs, with Mat Protheroe, Carwyn Penny and Will Talbot-Davies also in the mix here, but in Lloyd they potentially have a difference-maker at the highest level. Whether at 10 or 15, Lloyd’s acceleration, footwork and distribution allows him to create and finish attacking opportunities with equal abandon.
- Louis Rees-Zammit, Gloucester
Few players have ever made the seamless transition from junior rugby to senior rugby that Rees-Zammit has over the past eight months. He has bypassed U20 rugby this season and gone straight into involvement with the senior Wales side, on the back of a number of eye-catching performances for Gloucester in the Gallagher Premiership. An honourable mention, too, for the Scarlets’ Ryan Conbeer.
- Owen Watkin, Ospreys
A nod to Exeter-bound Corey Baldwin who could flourish and push himself back into contention, though this spot is an easy call with Watkin available. In addition to already breaking through for Wales, Watkin has been a consistent and effective performer in an Ospreys team that has struggled to live up to the glories of their past.
- Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Ospreys
Again, there are no shortage of potential options here for Wales, with Kieran Williams and Aneurin Owen offering a lot of potential, albeit if relatively unproven at the senior level currently. Thomas-Wheeler is still making his way, but he combines the innate physical ability that is needed to flourish at inside centre, with a solid distribution skill set that allows him to hurt teams in multiple ways in a dynamic and versatile midfield.
- Owen Lane, Cardiff Blues
Lane’s rise over the past couple of seasons has been noteworthy and won him his senior debut for Wales last year. Like Watkin, he has been a part of a regional side that has had its fair share of struggles in recent campaigns, although that hasn’t prevented him from positively impacting the side and turning in consistent performances.
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- Jarrod Evans, Cardiff Blues
Evans’ place here will come under plenty of threat from Sam Costelow and Lloyd in the coming seasons, but for now he is the next in line for the 10 jersey. The fly-half has already made his international debut and has seemingly surpassed Sam Davies as the heir apparent to Dan Biggar’s vice-like grip on the starting fly-half spot.
- Reuben Morgan-Williams, Ospreys
Electric around the fringes and boasting a sharp pass, Morgan-Williams is built in the mould of the Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams one-two punch that has brought so much success for Wales in recent seasons. He has sevens experience under his belt, too, and could be just a consistent run of games away from truly announcing himself on the senior stage.
- Rhys Carré, Saracens
If one of the Welsh regions can lure Carré back to Wales it will be a major coup for Pivac, with the athletically gifted loosehead one of the most promising players he has to call upon. He has taken his opportunities with Saracens well and is beginning to make good on the extraordinary levels of promise that he showed in the U20s.
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- Dewi Lake, Ospreys
The Wales U20 captain from last season, Lake impressed everyone with the set-piece foundations he showed, as well as a more than solid contribution in the loose. Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee will have stronger claims on succeeding Ken Owens at present, but don’t be surprised to see Lake fully in the mix with them over the coming seasons.
- Leon Brown, Dragons
Bath’s Archie Griffin will be worth keeping an eye on, although it is senior international Brown who is currently the leading contender for Wales at the position in this age group. The Dragons will face a challenge keeping hold of Brown beyond next season, with plenty of interest in the tighthead from abroad and the other Welsh regions.
- Jac Price, Scarlets
Price is still young in second row terms, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use his size effectively on the pitch. It’s going to be a challenge for Wales to fill the void left by the inevitable departure of the veteran Alun Wyn Jones and they will need players like Price to be ready to step up and impress at the Guinness PRO14 level.
- Max Williams, Dragons
A more mobile option than Price, Williams fits the mould of the modern second row that can also cover on the blindside, something which is becoming more and more en vogue. He is part of a cadre of talented Dragons forwards that have come through in recent seasons and should help form the core of the region’s pack moving forward.
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- Aaron Wainwright, Dragons
Another Dragon here and there’s an honourable mention due for Harrison Keddie, with the versatile back rower an option at all three positions among the loose forwards. Wainwright was one of Wales’ standout players at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and looks to be locking down the six jersey for club and country at a canter.
- Taine Basham, Dragons
As ever in Wales, there is no shortage of options on the openside, with Will Jones, Tommy Reffell and Dan Davis chief among those pressing claims for recognition. Basham is a rare talent, though, and one who could yet find a home anywhere in the back row, much the same as his regional teammate, Keddie. Irrespective of where he does eventually pack down, it won’t be long before he is involved with the senior Wales side.
- Jac Morgan, Scarlets
A tough call between Morgan and Cardiff Blues’ Sam Moore, although the latter hasn’t quite kicked on as a senior player in the way that was hoped back when he was in the age-grades. Morgan, meanwhile, is beginning to take his opportunities with the Scarlets and offers a valuable ball-carrying element than it is not currently in abundance in Wales, due to the plethora of hard-working and jackalling flanks available.
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