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The strongest Wales XV Wayne Pivac is set to pick from his new squad when it matters

Wales capped 11 new players two summers out from the last World Cup, five of whom went on to feature in the global tournament.

Tomas Williams wasn’t upgraded on the trip.

But he, too, went on to play at the World Cup, impressing the coaches in training and with his demeanour around the squad.

The goal of achieving extra depth from that southern hemisphere trek was achieved. Not even the stomach bug that hit the squad at one stage in Samoa could knock the tourists off course.

It was a significant month for the Wales set-up.

So what’s it to be this time?

No tour, but three home Tests, against Argentina and Canada, with one of the challenges for Wayne Pivac being how to filter his five uncapped players — Tom Rogers, Ben Thomas, Gareth Thomas, Ben Carter, Taine Basham — into the side.

Maybe some or most of those involved will make their debuts off the bench, for the head coach will be determined to maintain the momentum Wales built up during the Six Nations and experience counts at Test level.

There may well even be starting opportunities for the opener against Canada, but two Tests against the Pumas will require the very best Wales can offer.

Here’s the XV he seems likely to turn to when it matters.

15. Leigh Halfpenny

If Pivac wants a calming influence in his side in the absence of 10 Welsh Lions, it’s hard to think of anyone better to call upon than Halfpenny, with 95 Wales caps and close on 13 years of Test experience under his belt.

The 32-year-old reminded all of his quality against the Ospreys last month, when he produced a remarkable goal-kicking performance in the rain. The feeling was that had he been asked to line up a shot from behind the hot-dog van it still would have gone over.

There was also assurance in his general play.

14. Jonah Holmes

If the Rainbow Cup hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, the Dragons wing has enjoyed it. Indeed, his stats are off the scale, with Holmes scoring more tries (four), making more clean breaks (nine) and beating more defenders (21) than any other player. He’s also second in the metres made section, with 310. Had he jumped in the lineouts, he probably would have scored well there, too.

He has form, then, that demands inclusion in Pivac’s starting XV.

13. Willis Halaholo

He’s been cutting quite a dash for Cardiff Blues at outside centre, with Munster among those who have struggled to cope with his lines of running. The Irish province had Damian de Allende in their ranks, but Halaholo still made much ground, on one occasion slicing past the South African World Cup winner as if he wasn’t there.

With George North injured, this could be an opportunity for Halaholo to lay claim to a starting spot.

12. Jonathan Davies

It’s been a tough year for Davies, with form proving elusive after a long time out and the disappointment of missing out on a Lions place.

When Wayne Pivac called him ahead of the squad announcement this week, Foxy initially assumed another setback might be in store and that he was being dropped.

Not so.

Pivac was actually inviting him to captain Wales.

The assumption is he’ll do a good job.

But he’ll also want to remind people he can play a bit, too.

Happily, against the Ospreys last month he was outstanding.

11. Hallam Amos

Three young players will push hard in the back three, with Owen Lane, Ioan Lloyd and Tom Rogers set to be firmly in contention. Lane brings power, Lloyd brings stardust and Rogers offers huge all-round promise : he can beat a man in the blink of an eye, but he’s also good over the ball and a keen defender.

Maybe all three will have opportunities at some point.

But Amos is a class act with 23 caps on the board, including four in World Cups. He understands that the difference between regional rugby and the Test game is roughly on a par with the gulf between a ride on a go-kart and a drive in Formula One: everything is quicker — much quicker.

The suspicion is we haven’t seen the best of him on the big stage.

This might be his chance.

10. Callum Sheedy

He’s been supplying the bullets for Siale Piutau and Semi Radradra to fire in the Bristol back line, and he’s been doing his job well.

Jarrod Evans has been exceptional for Cardiff Blues, too, at times, standing out with his invention and ability to conjure the unexpected.

But given the way selection panned out in the Six Nations, Sheedy is favourite to start.

9. Tomos Williams

Some believe the Lions will face South Africa this summer with the best scrum-half in British and Irish rugby at home.

And yet for a variety of reasons, Tomos Williams — the gent referred to above — has yet to nail down the Wales No. 9 jersey.

Two tries against Munster, which saw him demonstrate outstanding support play, underlined the threat he poses. He is also creative, seeing things that others don’t spot, and can cause opponents problems with deft kicks over the top.

Kieran Hardy will push him all the way and the clever Rhodri Williams will not feel he’s there to make up the numbers, but Tomos Williams looks the likely starter.


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1. Nicky Smith

Three Ospreys props here in Smith, Rhodri Jones and Gareth Thomas.

Thomas has been causing opponents problems at scrums this season and Jones has Test experience and has also had a moments at the set-piece.

Whoever stands out in training is likely to determine who starts, but Smith has breakdown skills to match the best openside, he carries strongly, defends resolutely and can hold his own in the pushing-and-shoving game.

From here, he may just have the edge.

2. Elliot Dee

Your starter for 10: How many games of rugby has Elliot Dee started in 2021?

Answer: Two, against the Scarlets on New Year’s Day and against Northampton in April.

It’s nowhere near enough.

But injuries and Ken Owens’ pre-eminence at Test level have ensured Dee hasn’t been seen in run-on sides as much as he would have hoped.

He had his moments off the bench during the Six Nations.

The competition will be keen this summer. Ryan Elias made the shortlist for the Scarlets’ player of the month for May, while Sam Parry has been performing strongly for the Ospreys.

All will be out to impress Pivac and Jonathan Humphreys before selection for the first Test.

3. Tomas Francis

Dillon Lewis has been playing well for Cardiff Blues of late, with his ball-poaching skills to the fore, but Francis was a shade unlucky not to be named in the Lions squad.

He’s a strong scrummager and Wales perform better when he’s in the side.

Who should Wayne Pivac start with in his Wales XV for this summer’s Tests? Have your say in the comments below

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4. Cory Hill

A front-five shorn of Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens will need leadership and Hill is the man for the job. Just two defeats in Cardiff Blues colours this season, commitment in every game.

Pivac will look to the 29-year-old to have a big campaign.

5. Adam Beard

Has grown in stature this season, not least in the way he responded to his Wales omission for the autumn Tests. Beard takes responsibility and is maturing with every game. For the Ospreys at times this term, he has been immense.

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6. Ross Moriarty

The type of player opponents don’t like facing. Plays in faces and hits hard in the tackle. Sometimes he can displease officials, but rein in his aggression too much and you risk diluting the essence of Moriarty.

Injuries have meant he hasn’t played a Test in over a year. Anyone surmising he’ll be keen to make up for lost time probably won’t be far from the mark.

7. Josh Navidi

Mr Versatile. Wherever Navidi plays in the back row he plays wonderfully well. Injury may have checked his Lions hopes, but if he’s fit he’s surely a nailed-on Wales starter with his selfless, fearless game. He’s good over the ball, a rock in defence and someone who’s always first in line for unglamorous jobs.

Taine Basham and James Botham will hope for opportunities at some stage, with Botham catching the eye off the bench in the Six Nations.

8. Aaron Wainright

It could be Josh Turnbull here. After all, he has form on his side. Sixty-one Rainbow Cup tackles, a turnover to deny the Dragons’ Jonah Holmes inches shy of the Cardiff line, multiple charges forward in every game.

All term Turnbull has been delivering.

Indeed, if there were a Welsh player of the season award, the 33-year-old west Walian would be close to winning it.

But let’s see how Pivac picks.

Wainwright hasn’t exactly been hiding away in the Dragons’ back row in recent weeks and months. He can be explosive in attack and defence and he will feel this is his time.

A rare battle is in prospect, then.

Perhaps the 23-year-old Dragon starts as favourite to figure but there’s not a lot in it.

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