The waiting – and wanting – will be over on September 1. That’s the date Warren Gatland is due to name his Wales World Cup squad. Robin Davey says a one-time outsider is now at the centre of things, but there are at least three more hoping to move from the fringes.
Crunch time is rapidly approaching for Wales’ World Cup hopefuls.
With the England double-header now done and dusted, there is just one game left before Warren Gatland finalises his World Cup squad.
That’s against Ireland a week on Saturday, coincidentally Gatland’s final home game in charge – the last chance for some fringe players to force their way in for the trip to Japan next month.
Already, one player in particular has come from virtually nowhere to make himself a stone-cold certainty for the World Cup.
That is back row forward Aaron Wainwright, who has not just made up for the enforced absence of injured pair Taulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins, but, in the eyes of many, will be an automatic choice for the Test team.
True, he did make his mark for Wales during the Six Nations, but he was still largely inexperienced at the highest level, whereas now he look completely at home.
Just three years ago, Wainwright was playing for Newport works team Whiteheads RFC and the season after that with Cardiff Met, before making his bow for Newport RFC and then the Dragons.
His progress has, therefore, been little short of remarkable in such a short space of time and his two performances against England in the World Cup warm-up games have guaranteed him a place in the final 31-man squad.
With so many places buttoned down the remaining question marks are whether anyone else can emerge from virtually nowhere to be parachuted into the squad.
Chief among these has to be young prop Rhys Carre who really would be a World Cup bolter.
The 6ft 3ins near 21st prospect recently made the controversial decision to quit Cardiff Blues when top English and European side Saracens came calling.
He had started just three regional matches after making 26 appearances for the Cardiff club side. The 60-cap rule doesn’t apply to uncapped players who haven’t previously been part of the national squad.
Nicky Smith started both matches against England in the absence of Rob Evans, who has been nursing shoulder and more recently neck injuries.
So the Ireland match next week is the only opportunity for Carre to show whether he can really be a World Cup addition.
It becomes even more relevant given the scrummaging problems which surfaced during the England double-header.
The Irish game could also be an opportunity for Cardiff Blues pair Owen Lane and Jarrod Evans to make the squad via one last gasp effort.
Lane is the sole uncapped player in Gatland’s initial World Cup group, but with George North and Josh Adams certainties for Japan, and Hallam Amos also likely to go, Lane is very much an outside bet.
But he has been pretty effective for Cardiff Blues with his surging runs, try-scoring opportunism and defence too, so it’s highly likely he’ll make the starting line-up against Ireland.
Evans has suddenly got a real chance, though probably not in the way he would have wished following the serious knee injury suffered by Gareth Ascombe in the first game against England.
Evans was on the bench last Saturday but wasn’t used in a tight game and with Dan Biggar so important to the Welsh need for victory that day.
It seems pretty certain, though, that the Blues No.10 will make the starting line-up next Saturday with Rhys Patchell on the bench.
Patchell, also, is likely to get some game time as well as Gatland decides who he will take to Japan as his number two outside-half.
Evans is an exciting prospect, already recognised as a player who will create openings as well as get his fellow backs moving.
Patchell is more of a kicking and possibly safety first option, but he has suffered from concussion issues that undermined him last season. Now, back to full fitness, he will be eager to build on the talent he showed for Wales against Argentina a year ago.
So, the three battling to join Wainwright and jump on that flight to Japan are Carre, Lane and Evans.
But Ireland in Cardiff a week on Saturday will decide their immediate destiny.
Gatland names his World Cup squad less than 24 hours after the match which renders the return Ireland clash in Dublin the following Saturday pretty much redundant.
But that’s another story…