By Steffan Thomas
Wayne Pivac is considering turning to Sale Sharks prop Willgriff John in a bid to strengthen Wales’ scrum.
The 26-year old former Wales under 20s tight-head has been targeted and his form checked by the Wales coach ahead of the Six Nations.
John took an unconventional route to the English Premiership, having featured for Northland in New Zealand and Doncaster in the Championship after being released by Cardiff Blues.
Wales have relied heavily on the scrummaging prowess of Tomas Francis of late with Dillon Lewis, Samson Lee and Leon Brown also options to wear the number three shirt.
But Pivac is weighing up John as an option for his tournament squad with his scrummaging and ball-carrying having caught the eye.
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond believes John is more than capable of holding his own on the international stage.
“The last couple of games the Welsh selectors have been down to watch him,” revealed Diamond.
“He was a bit of an unknown when I first signed him. I picked him up from Doncaster and he’s done extremely well.
“He’s a massive man. He’s a strong scrummager, but he’s a lot more than that.
“Defensively, he’s always in double figures every game. He has, without a doubt, got the potential to play international rugby.
“I remember Richard Cockerill said when he was at Leicester that your highest paid player has to be your tight-head prop and your second highest player has to be your second choice tight-head.
“That’s where I’m at with Willgriff John who is one of our top tight-heads.”
Diamond is also excited by the potential of another former Wales under 20s prop in the form of Joe Jones who he signed from Perpignan.
He said: “I’ve got two Welsh tight-head props in Willgriff and Joe Jones.
“Both were let go by the Welsh system and we picked up Willgriff from the Championship and Joe Jones from Perpignan. They are both very good prospects.
“Joe Jones is also a top tight-head and will go far in the game.”
Scarlets prop Lee has been backed to force his way into the Six Nations squad by former Wales star Adam Jones, now on the coaching staff at Harlequins.
The 41-times capped Lee was a shock omission from Warren Gatland’s World Cup squad and has struggled to reach the heights expected of him since rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2015.
But Wales legend Jones thinks the 27-year-old is good enough to bounce back.
“I was very surprised he (Samson) didn’t go to the World Cup but he’s young enough and can still get back into the squad,” said Jones.
“When the scrummaging laws initially changed I think it suited him quite well because he was very strong. I can’t imagine having issues with your Achilles is ideal for a prop because there’s a lot of stress going to that area of your body in the scrums.
“But Wayne Pivac is now the coach so that should help him.”
Wales are thin on the ground when it comes to tight-head props with Francis expected to miss the entirety of the Six Nations while Lewis is also struggling for fitness.
That leaves Lee, Brown and John vying for places in Pivac’s first Wales squad.
“Willgriff John has been doing very well in the Premiership,” said Jones.
“Dillon Lewis is still young but there’s aspects of his scrummaging that he needs to improve on. I think Jonathan Humphreys will help him improve there.
“Leon Brown has looked good when I’ve seen him play and I know Richard Hibbard rates him really highly. As a young prop you’ve got to learn yourself and find your feet.
“My advice to them would be don’t worry if you experience a tough day at the office, you’ve just got to get on with it. It will be interesting to see how Wayne Pivac goes with his first selection.”