Wayne Pivac will reveal his Wales squad in the coming days for a daunting tour of South Africa – and which new faces can we expect to see?
Wales face three Tests against the world champions in their own backyard on July 2, 9 and 16, and it’s not going to be a trip for the faint-hearted. The Springboks will be raring to go as they kick off their international calendar and welcome fans back for their first Test match since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pivac has a myriad of injury issues to deal with and is looking to resurrect the form of a side that went from Six Nations champions to fifth in the space of a year. It is also Pivac’s last summer of matches before preparations begin in earnest for the 2023 World Cup so it’s his last real chance to experiment.
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It’s also worth pointing out that, due to the pandemic, it is also Pivac’s first tour abroad as Wales coach. There is much to ponder, but the biggest task will be striking a balance between a side that looks to the future and one capable of winning here and now.
With all that in mind, Gist Vile has assembled a squad of 37 players that could be in the reckoning.
Liam Williams, Johnny McNicholl, Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Alex Cuthbert, Ryan Conbeer
Fitness is a real concern at the moment in this area. Williams, McNicholl and Adams are rehabilitating injuries and Pivac will be hoping for good news on those fronts because, particularly at full-back, Wales are not full of options.
The head coach will be desperate for Williams and McNicholl to make it because, with Leigh Halfpenny still sidelined, their absence would be disastrous.
In better news, Louis Rees-Zammit has rediscovered his form for Gloucester, running in six tries in eight games since being dropped by Wales in the Six Nations and Alex Cuthbert has been playing well for the Ospreys.
With some room in the squad, Pivac may decide to bring Scarlets speedster Conbeer in, fresh off his hat-trick for the Llanelli-based region against the Ospreys recently.
It would be a bit of a wildcard selection and Conbeer wouldn’t necessarily see much action, but it would be an introduction to the environment for him and give Pivac a chance to assess whether he is a viable option moving forward.
Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins, George North, Owen Watkin
The return of North will be seen as a real positive. Wales lacked a cutting attacking edge during the Six Nations, which North provided from 13 during the 2021 success. He was on his way to becoming a Lion for a third time before injury struck, so Pivac will be keen to get him straight back into that channel.
Elsewhere, there isn’t much to debate. Tompkins has been going well for Saracens, so too Davies and Watkin for their respective regions. Scarlets centre Johnny Williams may get a look in and the Dragons’ Jack Dixon deserves a mention.
Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Callum Sheedy
Pivac is largely expected to stick to recent trends.
He will be encouraged by the recent form of Anscombe, who put in his best performance since his injury in the Ospreys’ convincing win over the Scarlets recently. Biggar will be keen to get back in action after a spell on the sidelines through suspension.
At present, it seems to be a shootout between the two of them for the starting jersey ,with Sheedy also joining the frame. It will be intriguing to see which way Pivac goes. The more mercurial Anscombe or the pragmatism of Biggar.
Rhys Priestland was also named in the Six Nations squad as a fourth fly-half but Pivac won’t need the numbers for this trip because he does not have to deal with English-based players leaving mid-campaign.
Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams
Again, the scrum-half squadron is pretty settled and I wouldn’t envisage Pivac swaying too far from what he has selected in recent campaigns. But there are some talking points. Williams’ fitness is an issue and he’s currently sidelined, though the hope is he’ll be fit to tour.
Then there is the form of Rhys Webb to consider. The Wales No.9 has been brilliant for the Ospreys this season although you fear his goose may be cooked with question marks over his relationship with Pivac. If Williams doesn’t make the trip, his Cardiff team-mate and namesake Lloyd, who is finishing the season strongly, will also come into the equation.
Wyn Jones, Rhys Carre, Gareth Thomas, Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, WillGriff John
There is a bit of a competition for the loose-head jersey at the moment with Carre really delivering some good performances in the last few weeks. It will be interesting to see if Pivac goes for him in the first Test but the loose-head trio are likely to be the established order. Nicky Smith has been going well for the Ospreys but appears to have found himself down the pecking order.
Injuries have hit the tight-head group but first choice Francis has been staying fit and playing regularly for the Ospreys, so he’ll head into the tour ready to go. Lewis has not been overly convincing in recent weeks, while John has spent a bit of time playing for Llanelli RFC this season.
However, Leon Brown is currently battling to recover from nerve damage in his shoulder and Samson Lee is also out injured. If Pivac was looking to experiment, he may be convinced to take highly-rated young Scarlet Harri O’Connor, although that would almost certainly be on development grounds and he’d likely see no action. Ospreys prop Tom Botha is also now Welsh-qualified.
Ryan Elias, Dewi Lake, Bradley Roberts
The established figures are expected to get recalls this summer. The only consideration here is Elliot Dee.
He returns from injury on Friday night to face Cardiff for the Dragons and he could force his way into the reckoning ahead of Roberts with a decent end to the season.
All being equal, Dee probably brings a little bit more to the party but fitness is the concern.
Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Ben Carter, Dafydd Jenkins, Seb Davies
There are injuries to consider here with Rowlands currently sidelined with a shoulder issue, though the hope is that it would not keep him out of a trip to South Africa.
On a different note, it is valid to wonder whether a trip to South Africa this summer is best for skipper Jones. If nothing else, the last 12 months have given us signs of his vulnerability, with injuries decimating his season. He is finishing the season with a run of games for the Ospreys but, if it is all about getting him through to France 2023, is a brutal trio of Tests against the Springboks going to help or hinder?
Carter is highly-rated in the set-up and further exposure here will be key to his development.
As well as Conbeer, Jenkins is a real wildcard but there has been plenty of speculation over a call-up for the young Exeter Chiefs teen. The 19-year-old has been getting some game time at Sandy Park, although head coach Rob Baxter has warned against calling him up too early.
Again, though, if he were to be brought into the set-up it would likely be on development grounds, rather than to face the Springboks.
Cardiff’s Seb Davies would be a front-runner to fill the hybrid lock/blindside flanker role that Pivac likes.
Josh Navidi, Taine Basham, Jac Morgan, Ben Fry, James Ratti, Taulupe Faletau
It’s looking like Ross Moriarty is going to be joining Justin Tipuric in being unavailable, which is a pretty big blow. Moriarty’s abrasiveness and physicality is exactly what is going to be required and partnering him with Navidi would have been ideal.
It’s likely to result in the Cardiff man popping up on the blindside this summer leaving a shootout between Morgan and Basham on the openside. The latter is the incumbent but the former has been in form for his region of late and they have contrasting styles. That’s a tight call.
After Conbeer and Jenkins, Dragons rookie Fry could be a third wildcard option Pivac turns to.
He is an interesting one. Pivac will need bodies on this trip and Fry, though he is still young, has the raw materials, having already been tipped to break into the Test arena. He does the uncompromising stuff well and was impressive during the Dragons’ tortuous tour of South Africa a few weeks ago.
With Ellis Jenkins and Dan Lydiate short of game time, Fry might be an option for his development if nothing else. Ratti deserves a recall and probably some minutes on the trip, while Faletau’s inclusion is obvious.