Only 31 seats on the plane are available to Wales players seeking a place at the World Cup. James Davies can further his case against Ireland today, but Harri Morgan insists the Scarlets No.7 has a broader influence that may swing tight selection decisions in his favour.
At the back end of April, my post-stag do brain drew upon reserves in an attempt to consume the 42 names that Warren Gatland had announced in his Rugby World Cup training squad.
I don’t really recall any of the inclusions or omissions being particularly emotive.
The inclusion of the uncapped pair of Owen Lane and Rhys Carre, both of whom will debut this afternoon against Ireland, seemed logical decisions given the former’s performances for the Cardiff Blues last term, and the latter’s potential that had seen him plucked from the Blues by European Champions, Saracens.
When I went back through the squad some weeks later in a more compos mentis state, there was the name of James Davies. A player who’s rise to the status of cult hero is well documented, but a player who didn’t clock many minutes for the Scarlets in what was a lacklustre year for the region.
The lack of game time was driven by injury, and each long awaited return was thwarted by another set-back before he had opportunity to remind the Scarlets faithful and wider Welsh rugby what it was missing.
After picking up his second and third cap against Argentina in the summer of 2018, a tour that was successful on both an individual and team level, the one they call Cubby would have been justified in thinking that another good season would see him in with a shout of a seat on the plane to Japan.
However, at no point would the player himself have assumed that there was sufficient credit in the bank for a season to have passed him by, and still remain in Gatland’s thinking. Particularly so, given that it was a thought process that he had struggled for so long to enter, even when he was picking up man of the match awards left, right and centre.
The irony is that Davies’s unique selling point might end up being one of his characteristics that many assumed was the foremost barrier to entry as he sought initial international recognition. He’s a champion tourist.
We’re mostly all familiar with his booze-fuelled knuckle tattoo, but it will be his ability to flick the switch between tourist and elite athlete that may prove an attraction to Gatland.
A coach, who through his British and Irish Lions experience, no doubt understands better than most that although success will be defined by results on the paddock, it is so often underpinned by a happy and engaged camp away from it.
With players away from their families and creature comforts, the ability of a character like Cubby to galvanise spirits in the squad might prove invaluable.
As a circuit sevens player, not to forget Olympian, the Scarlets loose forward has more practice than most at maximising the off-field experience in a way that enhances the on field stuff.
In no way is the above to disrespect the openside’s playing ability, attitude or professionalism. He wouldn’t be close if he wasn’t fronting up in training, and hitting the fitness levels that the Welsh management demand.
After being cut short against England, he will be desperate to prove today that he is worthy of his spot for playing exploits alone.
But when it comes to the final selection meeting it would be naïve to think that the committee would ignore his wider offering.