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Wales’ back three options to face the All Blacks with stars missing and 12 men in the frame as new law could sway selection

When you consider the likely Wales back three for the opening autumn international against New Zealand, two names look pretty much nailed on.

Provided they are deemed to be fit and Test-match ready after their post-Lions break, Josh Adams and Liam Williams will surely make the starting line-up.

But as for who will complete the trio, well that’s wide open.

As the All Blacks game is outside the official World Rugby window, England-based players are unavailable to Wales under Premiership Rugby rules.

So, in the context of the back three, that means no Louis Rees-Zammit or Ioan Lloyd.

On top of that, Leigh Halfpenny and Ashton Hewitt are ruled out through injury, while the versatile George North seems unlikely to be back from his knee ligament rupture in time.

Read more: Wales maverick calls out ‘bulls**t coaches and clueless World Rugby’

Where does that leave us, then?

Well, if Liam Williams plays in his Lions Test position of full-back, there will be a host of candidates jostling to partner Adams on the wing.

Should Sanjay go to the wing, then there are a number of full-back options, including employing a fly-half there to make the most of the new 50:22 kicking law. You can read about the radical laws changing rugby for the next year here.

Here, then, are the contenders.

THE WING MEN

Jonah Holmes

Having made just one start for Wales in the three years since he was first called up to the squad, Holmes made two in as many weeks over the summer.

He’d earned selection with his prolific form in the second half of the season for the Dragons, scoring 10 tries in as many matches, and he carried on in that vein against Canada, touching down twice.

The ball didn’t come his way so much versus Argentina and he missed out on the re-match with the Pumas, but the 29-year-old remains a leading contender with his strong-running, his pace and his predatory nature.

Owen Lane

The Rhiwbina RFC product has endured wretched luck on the injury front, repeatedly picking up untimely knocks just as Wales squads are about to be announced.

As such, he had been limited to only the two caps prior to this summer. But he doubled that tally by starting both Tests against Argentina, showing his potent threat with an excellent finish in the second of those games.

He is powerful, quick and offers great angles of running from his days in the centre.

Hallam Amos

He’s won 15 of his 25 caps on the wing, so he has plenty of experience in the position and he figured there as recently as February’s Six Nations opener against Ireland. But it was at full-back he lined up for the summer Tests, so more of that later.

Johnny McNicholl

Wayne Pivac knows McNicholl well, having brought him over to the Scarlets from New Zealand in 2016, and he fast-tracked the former Crusaders speedster into the Wales team for the 2020 Six Nations after he had completed his three-year residency.

It was a bit of an up and down introduction to Test rugby, with a few defensive issues emerging, and he hasn’t figured since the game against Georgia in November 2020. He turns 31 this September, but remains a quality finisher when fit.

Alex Cuthbert

After three injury-troubled seasons with Exeter, the former Cardiff Blues winger has headed back over the bridge to join the Ospreys and that means he is eligible for Wales once more.

It would be some story if he forced his way back into the mix four years on from winning the last of his 47 caps. But his form for the Chiefs towards the end of last term showed he still has a lot to offer with his carrying and his eye for the try line.

Tom Rogers

It was some rapid rise for the Scarlets youngster last season. He had only made a couple of regional appearances going into it, but now he is a Welsh international, with his running talent having propelled him into Test arena.

Sharing in the 33-11 defeat to Argentina will have been a tough initiation and there are clearly still rough edges to his game, but the 22-year-old will have benefited from the experience.

Steff Evans

He hasn’t played for Wales in two years, having slipped down the pecking order after making a flying start to his Test career with five tries in his first eight caps.

But he remains a prolific performer for the Scarlets, with an ability to carve tries out of nothing, with his pace and determination to get to the ball first, while he has worked hard on his defensive game.

THE FULL-BACK OPTIONS

Hallam Amos

Amazing to think the good doctor is still only 26, as he seems to have been around for so long. That’s what happens when you make your regional debut at 17.

He’s the most recent occupant of the full-back berth, having worn No. 15 in both Tests against Argentina in July. It proved to be a real mixed bag for him. He was named man of the match following the draw with the Pumas, but then had a day to forget a week later.

At his best, he is good under the high ball, while offering a left-footed kicking option and intelligent running lines.

Gareth Anscombe

Just to see him back out on the field will be a bonus given he hasn’t played since suffering serious knee ligament damage against England just over two years ago. But he is ready to go again now and if he can hit the ground running, he could well be in the mix.

The 2019 Grand Slam No. 10 would be a strong candidate to start at fly-half against New Zealand, with Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy both unavailable through being based in England.

But the 30-year-old could also be an option at full-back. He has won seven of his 27 caps there, while also wearing 15 in Super Rugby and European Challenge Cup final victories for the Chiefs and Cardiff Blues respectively.

With the introduction of the 50:22 rule, teams will be tempted to have a territorial kicking option at full-back and the astute Anscombe certainly fits that bill.

Rhys Patchell

It’s a similar story with Patchell.

He has played precious little rugby over the past 20 months due to various injury issues, but the hope is he too will be back on duty with the start of the new season.

He’s also someone who has had experience at full-back and could provide that 50:22 kicking clout. However, he has figured pretty much solely at fly-half since switching from Cardiff Blues to the Scarlets in 2016.

Michael Collins

Pivac is thought to be an admirer of the versatile 28-year-old who played under him for a season at the Scarlets. Born in Queenstown, New Zealand, Collins qualifies for Wales through a Llanelli-born grandfather and is now on hand having joined the Ospreys from the Highlanders.

He has been operating in the centre of late, but has plenty of experience at full-back, with Otago, the Scarlets and the Auckland-based Blues.

Mat Protheroe

He had an excellent first season with the Ospreys after his move from Bristol, catching the eye with his counter-attacking from deep.

He can slot in at full-back or on the wing, bringing pace and balanced running. Yet to figure in Pivac’s plans, he’ll be looking to lay down a marker once again when the campaign gets going.

Rhys Priestland

Something of a wildcard option as he hasn’t played for Wales since winning his 50th cap against New Zealand in November 2017, while he is now 34 and very much a fly-half for that matter.

But he did figure at full-back for the Scarlets in his earlier days and you never know what the 50:22 rule is going to throw up.

Pivac is clearly a fan, having been keen to have the then-Bath man on board for the 2021 Six Nations and his move to Cardiff Rugby now opens the way for his selection. So who knows what may lie in store.

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