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He’s like a new Sam Warburton and he’s the man to solve Wales’ breakdown problems

There was a time, around 15 years or so ago, when covering Cardiff Blues was quite a monotonous experience.

Monotonous because the Man of the Match award seemed to go to Martyn Williams pretty much every week.

Back then, you used to get handed a slip of paper to fill in at around the 75 minute mark to choose your player of the game.

It just saved a lot of time if you put down the Nugget’s name before the match, as it would be the same end result!

And that’s pretty much what it’s like covering the Dragons whenever Ollie Griffiths is playing.

It would be fascinating to know just how many of his 75 matches for the Gwent region have seen him selected as their Man of the Match.

You would think it has to be a pretty high percentage because it just seems to happen all the time.

It’s certainly been the case for his last two outings, where he has shone brightly in adversity against Ulster and Munster, and it’s tended to be a regular occurrence over the years.

The problem, of course, is he just hasn’t been able to stay injury-free long enough to convert that regional excellence into international opportunity.

It just seems that every time he has strung together a mini-series of stellar displays to take him to the brink of Wales selection, he has been struck down by yet another problem.

That’s why his Test career has been limited to just one outing off the bench against Tonga at Auckland’s Eden Park in June 2017, with his only other appearance coming as a sub in an uncapped clash with the Barbarians.

The past 18 months have been particularly frustrating, bringing just ten games of regional rugby, due to groin, calf and hamstring issues.

As such, you are loathe to tempt fate. But, touching a large lump of wood, the 25-year-old from Newbridge now appears to be over his troubles.

He is fit and he is certainly firing.

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The timing could hardly be any better because he is exactly what Wales need right now.

If you look at his display against Munster at Rodney Parade on Sunday afternoon, he ticks so many of the boxes.

The breakdown was the real Achilles Heel for Wayne Pivac’s team in their defeat to Scotland and Griffiths is just so effective in that department.

You can’t help but be reminded of Sam Warburton when you see him in action at the contact area.

He is just so strong over the ball and gets in a great position as a jackal, with a wide stance and a rock-solid core.

Once he’s locked on, it would take a JCB to move him, such is his upper-body physique. You ain’t shifting him.



Ollie Griffiths on Wales duty against the Barbarians last year

What’s also reminiscent of Warburton is the way he prowls the tackle area, just waiting for his moment to strike.

He seems to be there hovering around at every breakdown, looking to pounce.

You inevitably find yourself drawn to him, watching for where he is, because you feel like he’s a threat at every ruck.

He competes so hard over the ball and makes it so difficult for the opposition to secure clean, quick possession.

There were a couple of times against Munster where he came tantalisingly close to latching on, without quite managing it.

But he wasn’t deterred. He kept coming back for more and ended up with a couple of classic turnovers.

At a time when Wales are struggling so badly at the breakdown, he surely has to come into consideration given his ability in that department.

It’s not just over the ball he excels, however, but also with ball in hand..

He’s a really strong, explosive carrier, who punches above his 15st 10lbs frame in a similar fashion to Josh Navidi. There’s a real dynamism and drive to his surges forward, combined with good footwork.

On top of that, he always seems to put in a big shift in defence, racking up the hits.

One game that sticks in the mind, in particular, was against Ulster about three years ago when he made no fewer than 27 tackles, without missing a single one.

Just for good measure, he also made 75 metres from 16 carries, beating five defenders!

As you can see, he is some rare talent, a man who is into everything.

It’s the way he plays, putting his body on the line for 80 minutes, that inevitably makes him prone to injury, again just like Warburton.

But when he is able to take the field, he has some impact.

Against Munster on Sunday, it was another of his all-action days at the office.

He made 14 carries for 35 metres, put in 13 tackles and won two turnovers.

It’s fair to say that without him on board, the margin of defeat would likely have been a lot more.

He was a finger in the dam for the under-the-cosh Dragons all afternoon.

The other attribute Griffiths has is he’s equally comfortable right across the back row



Ollie Griffiths surveys the scene from No 8 for the Dragons against Munster

He wore No 8 on Sunday, but he can slot into 6 or 7 with ease.

That versatility would, in theory, make him all the more valuable to Wales.

But, of course, he’s not in the squad.

Should he be? Well, yes in my humble opinion, because he’s that good when free of injury, which he is right now.

My four back rowers in the 23 for Wales’ next game against Ireland in Dublin on November 13 would be Griffiths, Justin Tipuric, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Navidi, providing of course that Josh passes his concussion protocols.

Then you could look at the best starting combination out of those four.

Lewis-Hughes wasn’t in the original autumn squad, but selecting him on form to face the Scots proved the correct decision by Pivac, as the young blindside was arguably the stand-out performer in red.

Now the Kiwi coach surely has to consider doing the same with regard to Griffiths.

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