Ever since it became apparent that Wales’ autumn opener against New Zealand would be outside of the Test window, it’s always been a case of tallying up just how many players would be unavailable to Wayne Pivac.
Some like Liam Williams and potential new cap Michael Collins are relatively recent absentees, but others have had a line crossed through their name for some time.
Wales’ first-choice fly-half Dan Biggar will be on club duty in England with Northampton Saints, while his Six Nations deputy Callum Sheedy will also be turning out for Bristol across the border when the All Blacks come to Cardiff at the end of this month.
The fact that Pivac will be without the two pivots who steered Wales to Six Nations glory earlier this year is something that has widely been accepted for a while now.
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Replacing them for that first autumn game on October 30 has been the issue at hand, before the pair stride back into camp ready for the visit of world champions and Lion tamers, South Africa, the following week.
So whenever Pivac names his squad, the odds were that, for better or worse, he’d have had to name four fly-halves. Two – likely Rhys Priestland and Gareth Anscombe at this stage – to take on Ian Foster’s men first up, then the English-based duo of Biggar and Sheedy.
That might seem bloated, but Sheedy’s role in the Six Nations meant that his unavailability hardly warranted omission from the autumn squad.
But then you sit back and look at things logically.
Four fly-halves, even if Priestland, Anscombe, Jarrod Evans, Sam Davies, Sam Costelow or whoever Pivac might turn to were released back to their club after the All Blacks clash, seems too much for an autumn series against the southern hemisphere’s heavyweights
Especially when this is a campaign that Pivac has already alluded to approaching with less of an experimental hand than last year’s packed autumn schedule.
Maybe picking two fly-halves unavailable for the first game isn’t something you can carry that easily – even if they were the two who led the team to success earlier in the year.
And then, crucially, there’s the form of Sheedy itself.
Is he one of the best three – or four – Welsh fly-halves available right now?
You’d be hard-pressed to say yes at the moment.
Player ratings are hardly an exact science but in his four games for Bristol this season, BristolLive writer John Evely has handed Sheedy’s performances two 5s, a 7 and, most recently in the collapse against Harlequins, a 4.
That’s hardly a sign of a player in form.
Writing about that latest performance against Quins last Friday night, BristolLive said: “Early in the second half, after 14 phases of side-to-side attack, Sheedy put in a nothing kick for territory which never looked like finding touch and just handed Quins the ball back.
“It was the start of Bristol’s demise as the focus and intensity of the first 50 minutes dissipated.
“Crucially the Welshman failed to threaten with his running game which allowed the home defence to shuffle across and eat up the space Bristol wanted to create on the outside edge.
“Sheedy’s final significant act was to have his pass picked off by Alex Dombrandt to see the man of the match run in from 35m out. Throw in four missed tackles as well and it was a bad day at the office.
“Struggling and out of form.”
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Previous performances have seen him accused of “forcing risky passes”. It’s something of a tightrope walk, leading the Bristol attack.
The way they go from touchline to touchline is something to be admired, and the way Sheedy varies his depth is an impressive part of his game.
Most fly-halves tend to always play flat to the line, but Sheedy’s understanding of when to drop back a few steps and allow himself an extra second or two is what gives his outside backs time and space to feed on. You can read more about that here.
However, when you’re struggling for form, you can give yourself a little too much time out of a desire for comfort.
Bristol went through a lot of phases at times last week, playing in front of the Harlequins defence rather than penetrating them because of Sheedy’s depth and inclination to always ship ball on.
Pivac and Stephen Jones will be aware of that and will have an idea of whether their own attacking systems can snap Sheedy out of that rut somewhat – with Jones consistently calling upon his fly-halves to be in motion, a stark contrast to the static nature Sheedy has often taken the ball at first-receiver for Bristol.
However, when you start pulling at the thread, what unravels is the notion that Pivac might have more reason to leave Sheedy out of his autumn squad than name him in it.
For whatever reason, that seems unlikely – Pivac brought him into the Wales setup and has invested a lot of time in the talented playmaker.
But this wouldn’t be the first time the Wales coach would have dropped a player in order to spark some kind of reaction.
Whatever happens, Wales’ favourite jersey promises to be an interesting point of discussion when the squad is announced on Wednesday.
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