By Rob Cole
Gareth Anscombe aims to “put a stake in the ground” against Scotland to prove to Warren Gatland he has what it takes to wear the Wales No.10 jersey full time.
As the countdown to the 2019 World Cup in Japan kicks-off in earnest on Saturday, the man who four years ago gave up on his dreams of following in the footsteps of Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter as the next All Blacks outside-half believes his big moment in Wales has finally arrived.
Gatland had no hesitation in handing the former New Zealand Junior World Cup winner only his fourth start in the Welsh No.10 shirt at the start of the four test November series. Dan Biggar is unavailable and Rhys Patchell is still suffering from a head knock.
“It is a good opportunity for me and a chance to put a stake in the ground. Everyone is pretty excited and so am I – I’m just looking forward to ripping into it this weekend,” said Anscombe.
“Wales are pretty blessed with No. 10s at the moment and there is a lot of competition for places, which is good for the squad. I get first dibs and I want to perform well and fight for the spot.
“I want to make sure I do the little things well and try not to over-think or overplay my hand. It is my opportunity to be my own man this weekend and an opportunity I need to take.”
Waiting in the wings, and itching to get his first senior cap, will be his highly rated Cardiff Blues team-mate Jarrod Evans. The understudy raised a smile when he arrived in the Welsh camp for the first time this week by asking Gatland what had taken him so long to pick him as he had been playing ahead of Anscombe for the past two years.
“Gareth made a big decision to leave New Zealand rugby to commit himself to Wales and he has admitted he found it challenging at the start. I think he has really matured in the last 12 months and he was outstanding on the Argentinean tour in a leadership role,” said Gatland.
“You have to remember he came over here as a very young 10 and he was still finding his feet in that position. Often you don’t expect your 10s to be any good until they are 26 or 27 and that is where he is at the moment.
“He realises it is a big chance for him and I think we will see some really good rugby from him, not only this season, but also in the few years to come.”
Anscombe will link up with his former Auckland Blues team-mate Hadleigh Parkes in the Welsh midfield and then have British & Irish Lions star Jonathan Davies outside him in a potent attacking trio.
“I had two or three years playing with Parkesy, I know him really well and it will be nice to run out together again. He has been a really good acquisition to the squad since he became eligible,” added Anscombe.
“He has fitted in seamlessly and he is a good character to have in and around the place. He is a good team man and he has been outstanding since he has been in Wales.
“He’s very consistent. I am looking forward to teaming up with him again and it will make it a little bit easier to adjust to the pressures of Test rugby.”
Their job will be to supress the Scots’ attacking instincts and keep the pressure on rookie outside-half Adam Hastings. His famous father, Gavin, won only once in five attempts against Wales in Cardiff and the last victory for the family was 28 years ago.
But Hastings Mark II gave everyone a glimpse of his huge potential in the recent Heineken Champions Cup clash between Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors at the Arms Park.
He scored the opening try, kicked beautifully, steered his side to a priceless away win and ran off with the man of the match award.
“Scotland will be full of beans. They’ve had an exciting summer and they are building something nicely, so it’s going to be a really good contest,” said Anscombe.
“Adam Hastings is an exciting young talent, isn’t he? He played really well against Cardiff Blues in the Champions Cup and has stepped up in the last few weeks for Glasgow.
“He is an exciting young prospect and he is dangerous on his feet. I guess we owe a couple of those Glasgow guys something, but it is a different jersey and a different challenge.
“This game is going to be a bit more intense and it is going to be a challenge for all of us to try and put as much pressure as we can on Hastings.”