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FEATURE Warren Gatland's expected 33-man squad for the World Cup

Warren Gatland's expected 33-man squad for the World Cup
9 months ago

At the culmination of a one-sided affair against the world champion Springboks, Warren Gatland looked at his coaches, raised his eyes to the skies and took a deep breath. Any optimism generated by the improved performances against England had been checked, and yet in little over 24 hours, he has to whittle down a squad that had at one point registered a bloated 51 players, down to 33.

The first to fall by the wayside was Ross Moriarty. After being left out of the Six Nations squad, the abrasive backrow had already decided his face didn’t fit, by heading to France. The next two drop-outs, however, were a shock. Legends Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, who had amassed 237 caps between them, retired within an hour of each other, with no definitive reason given why they would not have one last hurrah in France. It took a matter of weeks for the next British & Irish Lion to step down. Rhys Webb decided that a two-year contract in South-West France was preferable to a one-year deal in Wales on reduced wages. At 34, and on his last contract, who could blame him? The next faller was Rhys Carre, who was told to go back to his club and work on his conditioning in fairly blunt, public terms.

After 43 players returned from their hot-weather training camp in Turkey – only Gareth Anscombe and Alex Cuthbert – failed to get minutes under the belt in the summer series – leaving 12 players’ expecting a phone call they will be dreading at some point today.

Here’s the expected 33-man World Cup squad, with a 19/14 split.

Forwards (19)

Back row: Aaron Wainwright, Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau, Taine Basham, Taine Plumtree, Tommy Reffell

Always the most contentious of selections, Wales are well-stocked at back-row. As Sam Warburton opined, ‘Taulupe Faletau goes because he’s, well, Taulupe Faletau’, as long as Wales feel he has a good chance of playing a decent part in the Pool stages. Aaron Wainwright has done more than enough to go as his understudy. He’s explosive and a threat on both sides of the ball, and one of Wales’ few carriers who can regularly cross the gainline. Jac Morgan is another player there needs to be precious little debate over. Sure to be Wales’ captain, the Osprey has been Wales’ best player in the last 12 months and his strength over the ball, improved ball-carrying and Exocet-like tackling mark him down as one of Wales’ nailed on picks. One player who did his chances no harm over the last three weeks was Taine Basham. An explosive carrier, he has an x-factor and can play across the backrow. Tommy Reffell is an expert snaffler, a specialist 7, and would cover for Morgan. Dan Lydiate has been an absolute Warrior for Wales, picking up 71 caps, and repeatedly putting his body on the line, but at 35, he looked tired against the Springboks and may struggle to last an eight-week tournament. It’s then a straight shoot-out between Christ Tshiunza and Taine Plumtree. There’s no doubt Tshuinza will have a long Test career, but there’s a feeling that at 21, he is two years behind Plumtree in his development, and the New Zealander, born in Swansea maybe given a shot to chance to fly to France if he can recover from his shoulder injury – the signs are promising. There’s a reason Warren Gatland has parachuted him into the squad, and his potential and versatility is clear.

Jac Morgan
Jac Morgan has been Wales’ outstanding player over the last 12 months and is expected to captain the side in France (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Second row: Will Rowlands, Dafydd Jenkins, Adam Beard, Rhys Davies

Despite a tired knock-on against South Africa late-on, the 80 minutes will have a done Will Rowlands the world of good. It was only his second game back since injuring his shoulder back in November and he is Wales’ most complete lock. It would be a shock if he didn’t start against Fiji. Dafydd Jenkins has arguably usurped Adam Beard as Wales’ other first-choice lock, but he faces a race against time to start in the opener as he recovers from a knee injury. Jenkins is energetic, aggressive and the 6ft 7in Exeter Chief has a high ceiling on the Test stage. The experienced Beard travels and it would be a surprise if he was not a regular in the matchday 23 unless Rhys Davies dislodges him. Davies is a specialist lock, who also has the ability to play on the blindside and that versatility earns him a spot over Ben Carter, and Teddy Williams, who made his debut against South Africa and is a big prospect for 2027.

Tighthead: Henry Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Tomas Francis

Warren Gatland has taken a close look at Kieron Assirati, the 26-year-old Cardiff Rugby prop, and while he has shown promise, the three scrum penalties incurred against the Springboks may count against him. The scrum was marginally improved with Henry Thomas on the pitch, so he edges that battle. Tomas Francis would be favourite to wear the No 3 shirt against Fiji but there are concerns he’s not the force of old, so Dillon Lewis, who is heading to Harlequins after the World Cup has a genuine chance of usurping the 72-cap Osprey.

Hooker: Ryan Elias, Dewi Lake, Elliot Dee

Hooker is an issue for Wales. They lost Ken Owens to a back-injury over the summer, but high-hopes were pinned on the imposing figure of Dewi Lake to finally realise the promise he has shown. A knee injury, incurred against England at Twickenham has put his involvement against Fiji in doubt but along with Jac Morgan, he presents the future of Welsh rugby. His likely deputy, Ryan Elias is another struggling to be fit for Bordeaux with a hamstring injury, but the strong-scrummaging Scarlet would likely be a regular member of the matchday squad in France. It could be that Elliot Dee, who was out of the international picture under Wayne Pivac, could even find himself starting at the Stade Chaban Delmas. He edges out Sam Parry, who despite a try against South Africa and some encouraging play in the loose against England, finds himself narrowly missing out. With Wales’ injury concerns, he should keep him phone switched on.

Dewi Lake
Dewi Lake has had a frustrating start to his Test career with injury but his vast potential is clear (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Loosehead: Gareth Thomas, Corey Domachowski, Nicky Smith

Wales have looked at their most stable with Gareth Thomas packing down at No 1. At 29, the 19st Osprey is a decent scrummager, more than capable in the loose and an underrated defender, especially with the chop tackle. The next two spots on the plane are not clear. Nicky Smith, the 44-cap Osprey, could be a nose ahead. He is a destructive scrummager at domestic level but often fails to carry that form over to the Test stage. For the third loosehead spot, it’s the toss of a coin between Corey Domachowski and Kemsley Mathias. Both props has gained valuable experience this summer and both have shown they are a work in progress. Mathias spilt a pass at Twickenham and Domachowski will have had an education packing down against Frans Malherbe. This selection conundrum will have given Gatland a sleepless night and while the Scarlet, who has edged ahead of Lion Wyn Jones for the Scarlets has a big future, Domachowski gets the call.

Backs: (14)

Back three: Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer

Three players are inked in for Wales. Louis Rees-Zammit is one of Wales few players with world-class potential. A more rounded player than when he burst onto the scene in 2021, Rees-Zammit can also play at 15. Liam Williams showed against England in the return fixture at Twickenham, that he still possesses the bravery, class and composure to be a guaranteed starter. Josh Adams hasn’t been as sharp as he’d have liked on the Test stage but the 50-cap wing, has an aggressive defence, is sound positionally and a proven finisher. The last spot is between Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Tommy Rogers and Rio Dyer. Halfpenny and Cuthbert, two long-time Gatland lieutenants, look to have played their final games for Wales. Halfpenny could bow out as a Wales great, with 100 caps, but given cover at 15 is already there, in the form of Rees-Zammit and, at a push, Adams, he does not travel. If Cuthbert, who has not played a minute this summer, is picked, it is on reputation and there have to be doubts his body will go the distance in France. Tommy Rogers has not let himself down, and is one for the future, but Gatland says Rio Dyer has come on immensely in the last 12 months, and his kick-chase, improving defence – Gatland was at pains to exonerate him from blame for the penalty try and subsequent yellow card – would see him pick up the last spot.

Liam Williams
Liam Williams showed his class against England at Twickenham and he is still Wales’ best full-back (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Centres: George North, Nick Tompkins, Johnny Williams, Mason Grady

The only nailed on selection is George North, who has turned from a teenage phenomenon into an assured outside-centre in the later stages of his Test career. He is eighth in the all-time try list and his size, and experience will see him travel to a fourth World Cup. Nick Tompkins gets a rough ride in some quarters, but he’s a multiple Heineken Cup winner, has a strong leg-drive in contact, a knack of ripping the ball out of contact and a decent passing game off both hands. The other 12 is Johnny Williams. Yes, he’s short on game-time but Gatland applauded his carrying over the gainline and knows he will sharpen up as the tournament progresses. Max Llewellyn hasn’t offered a huge amount in two outings during the Summer Series, and Kieran Williams, a bustling, low-slung runner, has had 15 minutes in 240 minutes, so it would be a huge surprise if he’s picked. Mason Grady edges Joe Roberts, who showed up well against England at Twickenham, and it will be a flip-of-the-coin decision. Yes, he made a Horlicks behind his try-line against South Arica, but his 6ft 5in, 17st frame, ability to play on the wing and obvious ability sees him travel.

Fly-half: Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Sam Costelow

Despite a public rebuke from his head coach in a newspaper column, Biggar is still expected to be in the 10 shirt against Fiji. A courageous defender, brilliant aerially, and someone who relishes pressure environments, he can sleep easy. Gatland has been a long-term admirer of Gareth Anscombe, who didn’t play a minute of the summer series, with a thumb injured in training. His composure, ability to play at 15, and experience would see him taken on reputation. For the third fly-half spot, Sam Costelow, has shown over the course of the month that he has the vision, bravery and skill to assume the No 10 shirt after the World Cup. His education will continue in France, where he could muscle his way into the match-day 23.

Sam Costelow
Sam Costelow has shown up well in this summer’s Tests and is the likely starting Wales 10 after the World Cup (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Scrum-half: Gareth Davies, Tomos Williams, Kieran Hardy

Probably the easiest combination to select given there are only three scrum-halves in contention, after Webb’s retirement. Tomos Williams seems Gatland’s first-choice, where he will vie with Gareth Davies for a starting spot. Six months ago, Davies seemed yesterday’s man, but a fine run of form at club level at the tail end of the season, and the obvious results from an arduous summer of fitness, have seen him catapult back into contention. A try against England further outlined his capability on the Test stage. A third World Cup beckons. Kieran Hardy is a tidy scrum-half, with slick service and decent turn of pace, but he is starting as a third-choice 9 – which did Shane Williams no harm in 2003, did it?

Comments

3 Comments
P
Paul 304 days ago

Wales is going to be slightly more better than 2019

D
David 304 days ago

Backrow we have no idea if Plumtree is fit for the world cup. I actually feel he is too immature picking and going when there is planned move ready to be sprung. I do think Tshiunza goes purely for Ball retention. Second row. Ben Carter? Took 4 line outs made his tackles made his carries. Looked much better than Beard and Davies last weekend. I think you are right Beard goes purely on experience. Pains me to say about Davies as I love the attitude of the player. Props Mathias? Seriously the guy has played 15mins of international rugby Domanchowski started two matchesn and apart from tripping over Morgan's boot leading to RG snyman to make a break that leads to Moodies try will be on the plane. Tight head your probably right but I would like to Assiratti on the plane got good hands for a tight head prop. Centre not sure Tompkins or Grady are on the plane. Think the 12s are Johnny Williams and Max Llewellyn. 13 North and Roberts. Roberts looked very comfortable defensively at 13 and lovely outside break leaving Lawrence in the dust.

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