Liam Williams ended the season on fire for Saracens, accomplishing the kind of record in one campaign that most players don’t manage in an entire career. He makes Robin Davey’s Wales team for the World Cup opener but a big name casualty misses out.
Wales’ World Cup opener against Georgia may be over three months away, but already there is a big debate about the line-up of the ‘back three.’
Basically, four into three won’t go – with Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Josh Adams all bidding for a place in the side. One of them will be unlucky.
Shane Williams stoked the fires the other day when he said he would leave the prolific Adams out of his starting XV, though admitting that move would be an incredibly harsh decision.
The former Wales wizard went for Halfpenny at full back with North and Liam Williams on the wings.
That immediately brought howls of protest after the way Williams, North and Adams performed for Wales in their march to the Grand Slam last season, and their form since.
They have both been on fire and Williams, in particular, has been recognised as one of the best current players in the world, even more so since his outstanding performances in the all-conquering Saracens side.
In a riveting Heineken Champions Cup final against Leinster. he turned in a brilliant display with one particular incident standing out.
The crack Irish outfit appeared to have worked an overlap when Williams shot out of the defensive line and hammered opposing centre Gary Ringrose. Furthermore, he stepped up to jackal the ball as well.
The former Scarlets player has proved a massive hit with Saracens, though featuring for them on the wing. The 28-year-old has now won 56 caps and in the recently completed season became only the 11th Welshman to win a European Cup.
In fact, he ended the campaign a winner of the Grand Slam, Six Nations, Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership titles – some achievement. Leave him out of the Welsh team for the World Cup? Not likely.
Adams has been a real revelation for both Worcester and Wales. At club level he has enjoyed a magnificent career with Worcester, scoring 39 tries in 65 appearances.
And when he broke into the Welsh team he simply carried on with that form, scoring three tries in last season’s Six Nations, crossing against France, England and Scotland.
And he’s returning to Wales next season after deciding to join Cardiff Blues, realising he’d fall foul of the 60-cap rule if he signed a new deal with Worcester which would have made him ineligible for the national team. Leave him out against Georgia? In a word, no.
That leaves North and Halfpenny battling it out for the other position in the Wales back three, in my opinion.
They are both vastly experienced and, ironically, both have had their problems with concussion.
Halfpenny was out for around five months last season and was forced to miss the entire Six Nations, only returning late in the day for the Scarlets.
But he remains a terrific player and a tremendous place-kicker who has scored 713 points for Wales in 80 appearances. He’s also unflinching in defence and reliable under the high ball.
North remains a huge threat on the wing, a try-scoring machine boasting no fewer than 36 in his 83 appearances in the red jersey. Two of them came in last season’s Six Nations when he scored against both France and England, two of the bigger beasts in the competition.
He can be a bit shaky in defence, sometimes caught out of position, and there are those who would leave him out of that Wales back three for that reason.
But I don’t subscribe to that view.
For me, Williams has to play at full-back, where his ability in both attack and defence will be key for Wales.
Adams’ brilliant form also warrants a place in the starting line-up.
That means – unfortunate for him as it may be – Halfpenny’s lengthy absence last season makes him the most vulnerable.
He may not be quite the player he once was, and if he fails to make it either Dan Biggar or Gareth Anscombe would take over the place-kicking role perfectly adequately depending on which one starts at outside-half.
So, for me, the Wales back three for that all-important World Cup opener would be Williams, North and Adams.
I can do this exercise on paper, but Warren Gatland, of course, will be the man who has to give one of them the bad news, face-to-face.