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FEATURE Long overdue for Wales to look at high-flying Osprey Morgan Morris

Long overdue for Wales to look at high-flying Osprey Morgan Morris
3 weeks ago

The petition demanding that Wales should pick the inimitable David Bishop apparently contained thousands of names, not all of them belonging to folk who hailed from Pontypool, and was handed into the Welsh Rugby Union by the chief sports writer of the South Wales Argus newspaper, the late Robin Davey.

Did it count for anything? Not a jot.

The Welsh selectors of the mid-to-late 1980s declined to give the then Pontypool scrum-half, whom Neath’s much-respected rugby supremo Brian Thomas had feted as the finest player in the northern hemisphere, an opportunity to add to the sole Wales cap he had previously won against Australia. At times, it appeared the Archbishop of Canterbury had more chance of a Wales call than the Bishop of Pontypool.

Of course Bishop was a maverick (an early candidate for understatement of the millennium there) and there were countless off-field issues to factor into his prolonged banishment from the Wales set-up.

David Bishop
Bishop was widely considered one of the world’s best scrum-halves but only won one cap for Wales (Allsport via Getty Images)

But many will still lament that his sustained excellence didn’t reap the rewards it deserved.

His Pontypool team-mate Chris Huish also failed to make it onto the right side of the Big Five, as the Welsh selection panel were then known. The hard man’s hardman, who answered to the nickname of ‘Madman’, the blindside had been a key figure in his club’s pre-eminence in Welsh rugby at the time with venomous tackling and bulldozing carrying. Opposition hearts sank when they saw Huish’s name on a team-sheet. Running into him was said to be akin to hitting a reinforced brick wall. Yet he didn’t win a single cap. It was madness over Madman.

Sometimes selection just doesn’t work out as many think it should.

All of which brings us to Morgan Morris, the Ospreys’ uncapped back-row forward.

His consistency over several seasons has been something to behold. Last year he completed his own personal quadruple – walking off with three player-of-the-year gongs at the Ospreys’ annual dinner and later being named as the Welsh rugby writers’ top young player. He had claimed best-player awards at the previous two functions held by his region, as well.

Is it a question of size? Most commentators assume it is. Morris is 6ft and 16st – not small, but far from a behemoth by the standards of modern-day rugby. Maybe Gatland feels the need for a bigger player in the middle of his back row.

Moreover, he hasn’t let the plaudits weigh him down, with the Ospreys’ last four victories seeing Morris pick up three man-of-the-match accolades. He has been a key reason why the boys from the Swansea.com Stadium, despite being significantly underfunded compared to teams from other countries, head for the final weekend of the URC season with a slim chance of making the play-offs.  When the Ospreys get the job done, more often than not their Swansea-born No. 8 is to the fore.

But his efforts have yet to convince Warren Gatland.

Is it a question of size? Most commentators assume it is. Morris is 6ft and 16st – not small, but far from a behemoth by the standards of modern-day rugby. Maybe Gatland feels the need for a bigger player in the middle of his back row.

It is unlikely to be anything else, for Morris ticks pretty much every other box and then a few more besides, as evidenced by his URC statistics for the season, with the Osprey making more carries than any other Welsh player and more metres and offloads than all his Welsh forward peers. And a 94 per cent tackle competition rate is nothing to sniff at, either. Throw in that he’s more than useful over the ball and you get the picture of a multi-skilled back rower very much tuned to the modern game.

Morgan Morris
Morris’ consistency has seen him win Ospreys’ player of the year award for the last three years (Photo Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

So what does he need to do to persuade Gatland? “Hit a rock a thousand times and eventually it will crack,” runs the old stonecutter’s credo. Keep hammering away and rewards will come. But is it really that straightforward when it comes to national squad selection? Does perseverance plus ability always add up to Test caps?

Former Swansea coach Richard Lancaster, who helped advance Morris’s progress into the senior game, admits to puzzlement at his ex-charge’s ongoing omission from the Wales set-up. “It’s difficult because he can’t do much more than he’s doing,” he says. “He’s putting in the performances every week for the Ospreys.

“He did suffer an injury in mid-season which might have knocked him back in terms of his Wales chances, but you really would hope consistently good performances might get recognised at some point.

Morgan is the sort of boy who will not only give you momentum, but he can stop bad momentum, too… In adversity, he’s someone you want on your side. He’ll just grab the game by the scruff and turn things around.

“I think people under-estimate him. Maybe there’s a perception out there that he is too small. But week in, week out, he’s defying that belief. He’ll break the first tackle and take his side over the gain-line, while his collision dominance is good. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing right. He’s explosive and doesn’t come off second best in many collisions.

“And not many people realise how hard he works. He’s a very personable boy who’s humble and gets on with anyone and everyone, but it is hard work that earns him so much respect. He puts in the graft in training, doing the stuff that goes unseen outside the squad environment.

“He can also change the momentum of a match, which is important because the tide can go against you quickly in rugby: if you concede a penalty or a big collision, before you know it you can find yourselves one or two scores behind.  Morgan is the sort of boy who will not only give you momentum, but he can stop bad momentum, too. Perhaps he’ll come up with a turnover or make a strong run and bump off one or two opponents, something to lift the entire team. In adversity, he’s someone you want on your side. He’ll just grab the game by the scruff and turn things around.

“At the Ospreys, he always seems to be in the conversation for man of the match, even on days when someone else wins it. He’s always one of their top performers. That should count for something.”

Morgan Morris
This season Morris has made 72 carries in the URC, 22 more than the next best Welsh forward (Photo Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

It’s back to the c-word – consistency. It separates achievers from the rest.

Playing snooker as a student with my old landlord back in the day, Bristol’s green-baize legend Derek Curnow, this writer managed to pull off a length-of-the-table pot. The following effort, straight on a black, proved to be a grotesquely embarrassing miss, head up and technique all over the place.

“What’s going on?” said Derek. “How can you pull off a long pot like that and miss an easy shot next up?” He went on to bang in five reds and five blacks, for all the world looking as if he could have done the same in his sleep. “It’s all about practice,” said Derek, who would go on to play a key role in the development of future world champion Judd Trump. “It will help you become more consistent. And consistency is the key to unlocking all doors in sport.”

The ultra-consistent Morris will hope those words ring true as he tries to win over Gatland. He will do so amid praise from his Ospreys captain Justin Tipuric, who said after the recent win over the Dragons: “He has been amazing for years and years now. He’s just class.”

Once he’s in the environment, they’ll start to understand what he brings, how he’s slightly different to some of the players they have. If he does make it into the set-up, he won’t let anyone down.

There is one more chance for him to show his worth before Gatland names his squad for Wales’ summer Tests, with this weekend seeing the latest edition of Judgement Day, when Dragons face the Scarlets before Cardiff take on the Ospreys. Doubtless, the national coach will be an interested observer prior to announcing his line-up on Monday. Selection should never rest on one match, but a strong effort from Morris might just equate to the nudge in the ribs the Wales head coach needs.

Certainly, plenty will feel the Osprey merits a call.

“I think he deserves it,” says Lancaster. “And once he’s in the environment, they’ll start to understand what he brings, how he’s slightly different to some of the players they have. If he does make it into the set-up, he won’t let anyone down.”

Aaron Wainwright
In the absence of Talupe Faletau, Aaron Wainwright has established himself as Wales’ premier No.8 (Photo Michael Steele/Getty Images)

What else is there to say?

This term, Aaron Wainwright has played like the high-class international back-row forward that he is.

But aside from the Dragon, it’s hard to think of another fit and firing No. 8 in Wales who’s come close to achieving the levels Morris has hit for the Ospreys.

It’s overdue for Wales to have a close look at him. It’s hard to imagine they’d be disappointed.

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