As regional rugby makes its return, the Welsh rugby public has a seen a mixed set of results so far in the United Rugby Championship. The Ospreys are two from three, after a disappointing hiccup against the Sharks, the Dragons earned their first win in Connacht for 17 years at the weekend, while the feelgood factor of a win over Emirates Lions for the Scarlets was tempered by a humiliating loss to Munster. Cardiff battled to a bonus-point victory over Connacht before being outmuscled by the might of Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee for the Bulls.
It’s a long-held tradition in Wales that you cannot simply walk into a pub without debating who may don the No10 jersey in the Principality this autumn. In fact, many think it’s law.
Wales will have to find at least two fly-halves who play at a Welsh region. No biggie, they’ll only be facing off against Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.
After a knock against Connacht, Rhys Priestland has made a full recovery, with Jarrod Evans set to return to full training soon and likely to be in contention to play in the coming weeks. That said, Wales’ opening match against New Zealand falls outside of the international window, meaning head coach Wayne Pivac will have to look outside of his regular first two outside-halves, Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy. Wales will have to find at least two fly-halves who play at a Welsh region. No biggie, they’ll only be facing off against Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.
So RugbyPass+ are going to assess the pros and cons of all of Pivac’s options in the famous red No10 jersey, and come to a conclusion of whom he may trust.
The former Scarlet last played for Wales in 2017, with his most recent start against a Tier-One nation being a defeat by England in 2014. During his international career, Priestland has been vilified and bullied mercilessly by some fans who fail to see what a brilliant fly-half he truly is. Much like Alex Cuthbert, Priestland often became a scapegoat for those who don’t watch him at regional level. If Wales lost a game, everyone would blame Priestland. He became an easy target.
Welsh regional rugby has missed Priestland immeasurably. A fly-half with composure, natural attacking tendencies and an assured kicking game is rare to come by in Wales. He holds the Gallagher Premiership’s record for the most consecutive successful kicks at goal. He has been known to drag Bath through some tough games, and he will no doubt do the same for Cardiff. If needed, he can slot in at 15.
Priestland has stated that his move to the Welsh capital was in no way motivated by the thought of playing for Wales again, but he hasn’t implied he would turn down a call from Pivac. Though ‘The Priest’ is 34 and hasn’t played internationally in a long time, a 50-cap Grand Slam mastermind isn’t a bad option to fall back on with Biggar and Sheedy unavailable. While the some naysayers may roll their eyes, any Scarlets, Bath or Cardiff supporters would be exhilarated by the thought of Priestland returning to the international stage.
Evans is returning to fitness after a short lay-off, so he will likely be ready to take a place in Pivac’s squad and will hope to shine in training. He is inexperienced on the international stage, but Evans is a brave, innovative No10 who loves a challenge. He is capable of hitting form at any time and is a handy weapon in Pivac’s arsenal.
Unfortunately, Evans’ only Test start since the World Cup resulted in a loss to Argentina, but you can’t help but sense he’s the sort of player Pivac likes. He shone against the Barbarians in Pivac’s first game in charge – granted, the intensity is a huge step down from the All Blacks, but he showed that he can give Wales a great attacking platform.
Evans loves having hard runners giving him options. In the above screenshot, he directs Adam Beard to run a dummy-cut line, with both Jake Ball and Wyn Jones as options on a hard line. He hits Hadleigh Parkes, who is sitting deep.
Parkes spreads the ball, leading to a 3v2 with Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric and Josh Adams. Unfortunately, Tipuric gets the final pass wrong and Wales do not score, but this is a great example of how Evans likes to play amongst his pack.
While some may question his kicking at the highest level, he is fantastic at organising his troops to formulate attacking positions, and I implore you to find a modern 10 who loves a dummy-cut move as much as Evans.
Sam Davies is a No10 who has seemed destined for greatness since he was a teenager, when he was named World Rugby Junior Player of the Year. Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite had the consistent string of matches in the 10 jersey he would have desired. It has been even longer since Davies’ last full cap than Priestland’s, though he did replace Evans in the aforementioned Barbarians match.
Don’t be surprised if Pivac looks at Davies’ years of graft at the Dragons and thinks it’s about time he deserves a pop on the international stage.
Albeit briefly, Pivac has worked with Davies and will have a basic idea of what he can bring to his team. He has a cultured left boot and developed a nippy attacking game in his latter years with the Ospreys. Since moving to the Dragons, he has been a true leader and has often kicked them some valuable points. It may be short, but Davies’ international track record thus far is pretty good – he kicked the winning drop-goal against Japan on only his second cap, fresh from the bench. He has started two capped internationals and won them both. Don’t be surprised if Pivac looks at Davies’ years of graft at the Dragons and thinks it’s about time he deserves a pop on the international stage. Davies’ temperament is strong. Give him protection and he would not let Wales down.
Playing the All Blacks in a packed-out Principality may be a bit soon for the young fly-half, but you sense he must be on Pivac’s radar ahead of 2023. Seemingly improving week on week, the 20-year-old has a delightful pass and runs the same lines as any good centre. He probably won’t play as soon as this autumn, but if Pivac sees this match as an opportunity to develop young talent, Costelow is as good a young 10 as Wales have seen in years.
Despite his long injury lay-off, Anscombe has to be the obvious choice to start in the No10 jersey. Pivac’s plan for the Osprey was probably to bring him into the squad, have him sit on the bench for a bit and allow him to perform well in short spurts, with a view to becoming the starting stand-off by the Six Nations. Unfortunately, Wales are in desperate need of a starting fly-half.
Anscombe has performed well for the Ospreys so far since returning from his ACL injury. He has won two of his three competitive starts, making it to around the 70-minute mark. At Test-match intensity, this probably translates to about 40-50 minutes. Anscombe has the benefit of a few extra weeks to get himself up to speed and ready to battle his country of birth – and he will no doubt seize the opportunity.
If he is fit to play more than a half, Anscombe has to be the firm favourite to start. Much like Priestland, he has guided Wales to a Grand Slam and was no doubt in pole position to help Wales get one step closer to a World Cup title in 2019.
The starting No10 has to be Anscombe if he is match-fit to Test intensity. On the bench, Priestland, Evans and Davies are all fantastic options. Evans offers an extra attacking weapon, Davies will steady the ship and Priestland will do a bit of both. I like the thought of Davies coming on and offering something different to Anscombe, but you can’t help but feel that Evans is slightly higher up the pecking order right now. Personally, I’d love to see Priestland get another go, but when Pivac has two younger 10s to pick from, it’s probable he’ll view this as an opportunity to develop them ahead of 2023.
Evans is probably the front-runner to replace Anscombe in the second half, but one thing is for sure: Wales have a lot of options at 10. When Biggar and Sheedy are able to rejoin the national team, Pivac will struggle to boot somebody out of his squad.
Anscombe starts, with Evans on the bench.