As Wales new boys Rhys Carre and Owen Lane get ready for first caps this summer, Peter Jackson notes the looming record Alun Wyn Jones could soon achieve as he prepares for his fourth World Cup.
His first World Cup ended on the western coast of France with Wales plunged into a national crisis which forced them to dig deep for a new coach.
The next global tournament, in Auckland four years later, took his country to within a foot or two of the final only to fall short at Eden Park when Leigh Halfpenny’s long-distance penalty floated down under the bar instead of over it.
His third shot at the biggest prize fell somewhere between the first two, a late Springbok try at Twickenham doing for Wales roughly what they had done to England in stealing a win which cost Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and the whole shooting match their jobs.
If Wales go further this time than they have ever been and justify their status as No. 2 by reaching the final in Yokohama, Alun Wyn Jones will probably have climbed to the top of another chart.
He heads for Japan with every chance of ending it as having started more World Cup matches than anyone else, a distinction held jointly at 18 by Richie McCaw and the newly-installed chairman of the Lions, Jason Leonard.
Jones has made 13 and it would have been more but for the Fijians’ riotous romp around Nantes knocking the Welsh out at the pool stage and paving the way for Warren Gatland’s entry as head coach.
Twelve years on, Jones is the only one left standing from that crew. The countdown to his fourth World Cup began earlier this week with Wales naming an outsized squad for the pre-Japan schedule featuring a summer return to their favourite camp in the Swiss Alps.
For the last World Cup, Gatland’s long list included nine uncapped players, three of whom were Grand Slam regulars – Gareth Anscombe, Tomas Francis and Ross Moriarty. Two more made the cut for the final 31 – the then Bath lock Dominic Day and Dragons’ centre Tyler Morgan.
Blues hooker Kristian Dacey got his cap but has since slipped down the pecking order. At least he is still playing, unlike the luckless Osprey Eli Walker, a wing of rich promise before recurring injury bludgeoned him into submission.
The other uncapped players from the training squad of four years ago still have only one cap between them. While Ospreys lock Rory Thornton got his against Samoa two years ago, Dragons centre Jack Dixon is still waiting.
Even allowing for such long-term casualties as Aaron Shingler and Ellis Jenkins, Wales are better equipped for this World Cup than they were for any of the previous eight. Even the prickly captain will agree with that, privately if not publicly.
Gatland’s current squad cuts a settled look following the Grand Slam. There are two uncapped players in Cardiff Blues wing Owen Lane and Saracens-bound prop Rhys Carre.
Wasps flanker Thomas Young and fellow back-row ace Ellis Jenkins are absent due to long-term injuries, but Aaron Shingler and Bath No 8 Taulupe Faletau are included.
Carre, 21, will join English giants Saracens from the Blues for next season and is also eligible for England. Gatland has denied his selection was to keep him out of the clutches of Eddie Jones.
“It was nothing to do with that. We spoke about the perception of how Rhys got the selection, but I would not let that influence me in terms of feeling he was the right person for the job,” he said.
“We see Rhys as a player of the future. The coaches are surprised he has left Wales and gone to Saracens. He sees it as a chance to go and get experience at one of the best clubs in Europe.
“I can understand that, but he also needs to play and that is the risk he takes going there. I cannot see him overtaking Mako Vunipola.”
Wales’ 2019 summer fixtures:
England v Wales (Twickenham) Sunday August 11.
Wales v England (Principality Stadium) Saturday August 17.
Wales v Ireland (Principality Stadium) Saturday August 31.
Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium) Saturday September 7
Peter Jackson appears courtesy of The Rugby Paper