Hadleigh Parkes has been told to hit the ground running when he make his debut for Wales – or risk being overtaken by Owen Watkin.
New Zealand-born Parkes – from Hunterville, Manawatu in the country’s North Island – will make his first Test appearance in Saturday’s Principality Stadium clash against South Africa on the day the 30-year-old qualifies for his adopted country on residency.
But if the Scarlets centre already knew the clock was ticking on his international career with a late start, then Wales coach Warren Gatland has told him he is under pressure from Watkin, who is nine years younger at 21.
“Hadleigh has no international experience but he is experienced and has been significant for the Scarlets,” said Gatland.
“We want to see if he can cope at this level and look at his partnership with Scott (Williams). We debated whether to play Owen (Watkin) as we see him as having a lot of long term potential, but, hopefully, he will get some quality time on Saturday as well.”
Parkes is one of five changes from the team beaten by world champions New Zealand last weekend for Wales’ Under Armour Series finale.
Elsewhere, Scarlets scrum-half Aled Davies earns a surprise opportunity, with Rhys Webb, who suffered a head knock against the All Blacks, on the bench and Davies’s fellow Scarlets No.9 Gareth Davies not in the match-day 23.
A back injury sidelines hooker Ken Owens, so Cardiff Blues’ Kristian Dacey starts, while Dragons lock Cory Hill replaces dislocated shoulder victim Jake Ball and Bath’s on-loan Blues prop Scott Andrews also features.
Bath Ni.8 Taulupe Faletau remains on starting XV duty, despite four other Aviva Premiership-based players – Owen Williams, Jamie Roberts, Rhys Priestland and Tomas Francis – returning to their clubs as the Springboks encounter falls outside World Rugby’s autumn Test window.
England’s Premiership clubs have a blanket approach not to release players for those games.
While that policy remains unchanged and in force this week, it is understood that Faletau has a clause in his club contract giving him full release for Wales. But Bath can still expect a fine after Northampton took a £60,000 hit for releasing Wales wing George North to face Australia outside the 2013 autumn window.
Gatland claimed he was unclear why Faletau is the only player to be allowed to contravene the restrictions.
“All I know is that he’s told us he’s available for this game and the others have said they aren’t.
“I don’t know what agreements players have with their clubs but Toby said ‘I’m available’ and that’s why he’s been selected.”
With Exeter prop Francis unavailable and his fellow tighthead Leon Brown (concussion) sidelined, Andrews makes a first Wales start since a two-Test Japan tour four years ago.
Ospreys forward Rhodri Jones, meanwhile, has been summoned from outside the Wales squad to provide front-row bench cover – he reported for training earlier this week – as Wales target a third successive home victory over South Africa.
Only Scarlets prop Wyn Jones remains from the replacements selected for New Zealand, with Scarlets back Rhys Patchell among those who could get an opportunity this weekend.
Parkes, 30, has trained with the Wales squad this month in preparation for his expected involvement against the Springboks, and he will hope to transfer consistently-impressive Scarlets form into the Test arena.
Wales’ autumn campaign so far has realised losses to Australia and New Zealand, plus an unconvincing 13-6 victory over Georgia.
And the Springboks encounter is their final game before a testing NatWest 6 Nations opener against an in-form Scotland on February 3.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Scott Andrews, 4 Cory Hill, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Josh Navidi, 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.