The inquest had started to unfolded within seconds of yet another Wales defeat with questions asked about when the coach would go, who’d replace him and which new players would be brought in.
“Get rid of them all,” went a demand from one drinker in a Valleys’ club. “Useless, every one of ’em.” The comment didn’t prompt widespread applause, but, if memory serves correctly, not was it greeted by widespread hostility.
It was the early 1990s, when Wales plumbed depths that were not even explored in Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
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But one person in that club all those years ago did take a different line. “I just don’t think the players are there any more,” he said. Quietly.
They weren’t. Most had left for rugby league.
Are the players there now? Are there realistic alternatives for Wayne Pivac to consider after a Six Nations tournament that saw Wales succumb to the might of Italy, ranked 14th in the official world rankings?
The hope for Welsh rugby’s sake is that there are options for the coach heading for the tour of South Africa this summer.
MARK ORDERS comes up with seven from beyond the Six Nations squad who stand a realistic chance of featuring in the selectors’ plans.
Wales are said to be looking at the 19-year-old Exeter Chiefs second row.
The Porthcawl Comprehensive School product started a Gallagher Premiership match for the first time last month, acquitting himself well against a Wasps side that had 69-cap England international Joe Launchbury playing at lock. Showing maturity beyond his years, Jenkins put in 17 tackles and made eight carries for 20 metres.
Exeter lost 27-26 to a stoppage-time try, but afterwards their director of rugby Rob Baxter said: “It feels tough, but you have to be hugely proud of some of the guys. Daf Jenkins stepping in and doing 80 minutes like he did was fantastic. Potentially, he wins us the game with his last pass to Tom Hendrickson, but it hasn’t quite come off for him.”
At 6ft 7in and 17st 11lb, Jenkins has size on his side and is a useful lineout option but he is also athletic and contests possession at the breakdown. He is the kind of forward Pivac wants to develop, then, one who can also handle ball and cover ground around the field.
Whether he’s ready to tour South Africa remains to be seen.
But Wales could take him with an eye to the future.
It isn’t out of the question.
Wales haven’t been able to decide who should figure at No. 12 for them of late, with four players starting in the role over the past seven matches. Meantime, Scott Williams has remained outside the squad, despite being widely acknowledged as the top-performing inside centre on the regional scene this term.
We don’t know if his injury record has prompted the selectors to overlook him or if there is any doubt over his ability to withstand the rigours of international training and Test rugby.
But if a Welsh rugby form team were being picked for the campaign he’d been in it.
On that basis, he has to be an option for Pivac this summer.
You can read about the Scarlet’s impressive form here.
Rewind six months and even Wales’ head coach was name-checking Collins ahead of selection for the autumn Tests. But a calf injury picked up against Cardiff torpedoed the Osprey’s challenge.
Pivac signed Collins for the Scarlets in 2015 and enjoyed his versatility, with the Super Rugby import able to play at full-back as well as centre.
The Ospreys’ attack hasn’t been great this term, but in defence they have impressed with Collins an important player. Earlier in the campaign he said he wanted to tighten up his tackling. He then went on to miss just three out of 63 hits over his team’s next five United Rugby Championship games, showing calmness and good organisational skills.
Amid the unsettled nature of the Wales midfield, a burst of form in the coming weeks could put Collins back in Pivac’s mind.
Track back 16 months and Wayne Pivac was feting Williams as being like Hadleigh Parkes ‘with a bit more X-factor’.
He had just made his Wales debut against Georgia and would go on to score a try in an accomplished display against England which was notable for strong defence that saw Williams knock a number of white-shirted ball-carriers back behind the gain-line.
But injuries have worked against him, with a series of bumps punctuating the former London Irish player’s time since, meaning he’s been unable to build a run of consistent form. The past few weeks have seen the 25-year bank minutes on the field, though, and in adversity with the Scarlets in South Africa he performed steadily playing at outside centre.
Pivac will want to be convinced about his durability. But if Williams can stay fit and shine over the remaining months of the campaign, he could yet make his way back into the Wales picture.
When he named his squad for the 2021 Six Nations, Wayne Pivac revealed he had considered two uncapped looseheads — Gareth Thomas and Corey Domachowski.
Thomas has since gone on to not only break into the set-up but finish this year’s edition of the championship as Wales’ starting loosehead.
But Domachowski is still waiting for his turn.
He’s not without hope for this summer, mind, with regional team-mate Rhys Carre not playing a single minute in the Six Nations despite being part of Pivac’s squad. That doesn’t suggest confidence is at an all-time high in Carre after an autumn that saw him start twice. Just maybe there could be a loosehead spot up for grabs.
The most creative fly-half in Welsh rugby? Absolutely. The type of player it would be useful to have on hand amid the lack of invention in the Wales midfield area? Again, absolutely.
With bells on.
Yet Evans has been overlooked at national level throughout the season. It seems odd given his ability to open opposition defences.
Dan Biggar is Pivac’s choice at fly-half and he is also Wales’ captain. No-one should dash out and bet the kids’ inheritance on the 100-cap man being dislodged from his perch any time soon, then.
But how useful might it be for Wales to have Evans on the bench to change the narrative if they are finding it hard to break down a defence?
It’s been a stop-start season for him, with a nasty injury and the disruption caused by Cardiff’s Covid quarantine issues, but he is also a player who can trouble opposition rearguards. After Wales’ misfiring attacking shows in the recent Six Nations, they could do worse than helicopter the 25-year-old back into the frame.
Perhaps he has offended the selectors in another life. How else to explain Smith’s omission from the pre-Christmas Tests when he had been playing some of his best rugby?
The Ospreys man poses a threat over the ball, makes ground with his trademark twisting carries, is a determined defender and a decent scrummager. Are Wales fully convinced about his ability at Test level in the pushing and shoving stakes? That is a question for them.
But three Tests outings for Smith in Pivac’s 27 Tests as head coach does not suggest he’s had too much of a chance to prove himself to this regime.
It isn’t wildly out of the question to think that will change this summer.