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Welsh rugby’s new Super Rugby signing shows why he’s tipped for Wales call-up as axed youngster gives Pivac what he wants

On the evidence of Owen Watkin’s performance for the Ospreys against Northampton Saints, a proper summer break hasn’t done the Wales international any harm at all.

The 24-year-old centre would have wanted to keep busy, of course.

But Wales didn’t pick him for their summer Tests against Canada and Argentina, with Wayne Pivac saying he wanted to see more from him in attack and the June matches would give him a chance to learn about others.

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He also reckoned the time off would benefit Watkin.

Last Friday’s effort suggests the coach wasn’t far off the mark.

Watkin, who has 26 caps and World Cup experience under his belt, was a senior player who appeared to relish taking responsibility.

“He was outstanding,” said an Ospreys source.

“Maybe the summer break has done him good.

“There’s an argument that he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. He plays consistently well for the Ospreys and when he played for Wales against Scotland last season he came up with the tackle of the game — some people would say the tackle of the season — to bring down Duhan van der Merwe in the final seconds.

“If he hadn’t made that hit, Wales wouldn’t have won the Six Nations title.

“He just gets it as a player and as a person. He is unassuming and gets on with his job, no fuss.”

Friendlies are not always the best gauges, of course, but Pivac could do worse than seek out footage of the game at Franklin’s Gardens. The 6ft 2in, 15st 10lb Watkin frequently made ground with ball in hand, claimed an opportunist try after hacking through a loose ball and excelled in defence, often killing moves with no-nonsense tackling.

His trademark ability to rip possession was also in evidence.

So was his leadership. In the past, he might have been tempted to let others do the talking — understandable for a young player — but in the east Midlands he appeared vocal and demonstrative, at the heart of his team’s backline operation as he directed others and called for greater effort.

Toby Booth will have told him that his first goal for the season has to centre on playing well for the Ospreys, as that will be key to Watkin once again unlocking a place with Wales.

But it’s unlikely that the Bryncethin RFC product will need such a reminder, for he is the type of player who always gives his best for his home region.

He will know if he’s on his game at regional level, there’s every chance Wales will have another look at him. Pivac did so in the case of Adam Beard last term, plus Nick Tompkins, Elliot Dee, Jarrod Evans and George North. Every one of those returned to favour after being sent back to their regions.

The key is showing the right attitude, and form.

Watkin wasn’t the only Ospreys centre who had his moments against Northampton. Alongside him, Michael Collins chipped in with an encouraging performance.

While the Welsh team’s defence in the wide channels wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t obvious that Collins was culpable in any way. And the Wales-qualified former Highlander, with a grandfather from Llanelli, showed composure with ball in hand: his deft cross kick along the ground to Mat Protheroe early in the game, after the new boy had made an interception near his own 22, not only demonstrated considerable skill but also composure and awareness.

There was no panic as the cover closed in, just a rapid evaluation of options and the right decision before the play that allowed Protheroe to cross for the first Welsh try on the night.

It wasn’t the only smart piece of work with the boot from the ex-Otago captain. There were a couple more short kicks behind the defence which gave the Ospreys attack variety.



Michael Collins in action for the Ospreys against Northampton

Like most players schooled in New Zealand rugby, Collins made few mistakes and did the basics well, seemingly operating to the mantra that if you look after the one percents on a rugby pitch you won’t go far wrong.

Pivac already knows much about the 6ft 1in, 15st 8lb player having worked with him at the Scarlets in 2015-16. The likelihood is Wales’ head coach will want to have a close look at the 28-year-old once the season starts. Could he potentially do for Pivac what Hadleigh Parkes did for Warren Gatland? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but if Collins shows promise in his early games for the Ospreys it’s not hard to imagine him coming into contention.

Wales have other quality centres at their disposal in the likes of Jonathan Davies and Willis Halaholo, though Davies will be 35 come the next World Cup and Halaholo 33.

Pick your greatest Wales XV now

Johnny Williams is another option for the coach, but injuries have hampered him of late, while North is probably the number one midfielder when fit.

Then there’s Nick Tompkins, as well as youngsters Aneurin Owen, Ben Thomas are Keiran Williams, with Scarlets pair Scott Williams and Steff Hughes also capable of interesting the Kiwi.

Slowly but surely, a decent collection of midfield players is assembling, with Watkin and Collins among them.

It’ll be a situation Pivac welcomes.

Two years out from the World Cup, there’s everything to play for as far as Wales centre spots are concerned.

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