Such is the strength in depth that Warren Gatland has developed that Wales could field an impressive XV players from those that have been excluded from the Rugby World Cup squad going to Japan – not including those who were ruled out because of injury or eligibility problems.
Gatland has claimed, “this is the strongest Rugby World Cup squad we’ve ever selected” and, on this evidence, he’s right.
1. Rob Evans
A big surprise given how important he has been since the retirement of Gethin Jenkins. Evans is the type of all-action loosehead that modern coaches love, frequently looking as though he fancies himself a fly-half. Injury problems and the emergence of Rhys Carre have seen him cut from the squad.
2. Richard Hibbard
Always unlikely to be a late call-up, especially as he was cut before the last world cup, but a number of veterans have made surprise comebacks this year. He may have hoped to follow in the footsteps of Schalk Brits and Adam Ashley-Cooper after his return to Welsh regional rugby with the Dragons but it was not to be.
3. Samson Lee
Another major omission from the 31-man squad but, like his fellow Scarlet, Lee has had injury troubles and a younger pretender, this time Dillon Lewis, has moved past him in the pecking order. Scarlets fans will no doubt be relieved their two first-choice props are available to start the season.
4. Seb Davies
Gatland flirted with including Davies as a versatile lock-cum-No8 but only really gave him a chance at the back of the scrum, where he hasn’t played regularly at a high level. In the end, Wales plumped for specialists in the second-row, with flanker Aaron Shingler providing a fifth option if needed so Davies misses out.
5. Bradley Davies
All all-Davies pairing in the engine room. The elder Davies in the second-row has fallen down the pecking order but, if he is called-up as an injury replacement, there will be few worries about the highly physical veteran lock. Looked like he might sneak through after an injury to Cory Hill but Gatland seems to have decided it is worth the risk to take the highly-rated younger man.
6. Dan Lydiate
Once one of the most-feared blindside flankers in world rugby, Lydiate formed a potent back-row with Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, where his tackling and carrying complemented the skill-set of the other two perfectly. Wales have since come to prefer more mobile flankers and Lydiate has found himself on the sidelines. He hasn’t been in the training squad so is unlikely to get an injury summons either although, with two world cups behind him and still only 31, there are worse options to have.
7. Thomas Young
A victim of the Welsh openside factory and Gatland’s preference for home-based players who he can spend more time with. Young has excelled at domestic level for years and would probably get a space in most squads.
8. Josh Turnbull
A stalwart of many Wales training squads but rarely selected. Turnbull’s athleticism, versatility, and work-rate him very popular with coaches but he seems to lack the X-factor to claim a starting spot. Remains a handy squad player.
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9. Lloyd Williams
Williams was one of the heroes of the last RWC for Wales, stepping up as the second-choice when Rhys Webb went down injured and providing the assist for Gareth Davies’ famous try against England. Since then, however, his regional team-mate and namesake Tomos Williams has mostly been preferred and Aled Davies’ steady hand means Williams misses out on a second world cup.
10. Jarrod Evans
The attacking young fly-half might have been a surprise selection for the 31-man squad but Gareth Anscombe’s injury gave him an opening. Gatland’s decision to only take two fly-halves, however, and the superior performance of Rhys Patchell in the first warm-up game against Ireland means Evans misses out.
11. Steff Evans
For a time it looked like the Scarlets winger was the attacking spark Wales were crying out for, with his delicate footwork and unerring ability to find a gap. But his form has fallen off a cliff since then and the return of Hallam Amos as well as the emergence of Owen Lane and Jonah Holmes means he was always going to be a long-shot for this squad.
12. Scott Williams
Williams is a veteran of two world cups at only 28 but has never been first-choice for Wales. First he was second choice behind Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, then Hadleigh Parkes and Davies, and now he finds himself behind Owen Watkin, who has emerged during Williams’ injury troubles. Gatland might have taken a fourth centre were it not for his belief that Amos and George North can cover 13 in a tight spot.
13. Tyler Morgan
Memorably played in the quarter-final of the last world cup after Davies, Williams, and Cory Allen were gradually ruled out through injury and looked comfortable but Morgan is another who has found his career stalled with injuries. A classy player and a lovely runner, he has time on his side at only 23.
14. Owen Lane
One for the future, certainly. Lane originally emerged as an outside centre and that may well be the position to which he returns but it is on the wing that he has been tearing up trees for Cardiff Blues. Came out of the first warm-up against Ireland as one of the few starters who performed well and will generate some excitement if he is called-up as injury cover.
14. Jonah Holmes
The Leicester Tigers player will have had many fans googling his name when Gatland first summoned him, having never played (or lived) in Wales – he qualifies through his grandmother. He hasn’t shown the gas that made him one of the few standouts in a poor season at Tigers but his defence has been solid.
Rugby World Cup City Guide
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