Warren Gatland has put his faith in the boldness of youth with five uncapped players in his squad for the November Tests. It’s an uncharacteristic shifting of faith – in both players and playing style from the Wales coach, but Robin Davey says it reflects both individual form and the changing dynamics within regional rugby.
Out with the old, in with the new – the clear theme of Tuesday’s Wales squad announcement for the autumn internationals as coach Warren Gatland prepares for his World Cup swansong in Japan in 2019.
Out go Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins (though he’s been sidelined with a knee injury and hasn’t played since April), Luke Charteris and Scott Wiiliams with a combined total of 344 caps and an average age of 32.
In come Dragons pair Leon Brown and Elliot Dee, Ospreys duo Owen Watkin and Sam Cross, and Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes while Scarlets trio Steff Evans, Aled Davies and Wyn Jones, Ospreys lock Adam Beard, Cardiff Blues counterpart Seb Davies and Gloucester outside half/centre Owen Williams were all capped during the summer tour to Tonga and Samoa.
Parkes is named even though he doesn’t quality for Wales – having come over from New Zealand – until December 1, making him eligible only for the final game in the autumn series against South Africa the following day.
That could be considered even more of a blow to Roberts who has served Wales and Gatland so well, but now overlooked by a player who is only eligible for just one match out of the four.
It could well be the end for 93-times capped 30-year-old Roberts, Jenkins, 37 next month and Wales’ most capped player on 129 appearances, plus 74-times capped Charteris, who is 34.
But Williams can come again, for he is a comparative baby at 27 with 48 caps under his belt, while much the same could be said for hooker Scott Baldwin of a different lions fame after being bitten in South Africa. He is still only 29 and could add to his 34 caps.
Perversely, perhaps, one player who could be classed in the veteran category, but who has been recalled to the Wales squad is 30-year-old outside-half Rhys Priestland, in fine form for Bath this season and looking to add to his 48 caps.
Perhaps the biggest turn-up as an inclusion is Sam Cross, hitherto a member of the successful Wales Sevens squad, who has yet to make his mark in the 15-a-side game, but latterly impressed for the Ospreys in Europe as a late replacement for Justin Tipuric, a late withdrawal against Saracens.
Cross may owe his place to a number of injuries among the flanker ranks. Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, James Davies and Ollie Griffiths all out of action. But out of adversity…
Brown has made it just two days short of his 21st birthday, which is probably the best present he could have wished for. That’s really young for a prop, but he has been nurtured for some years through the age group teams and Ed Jackson, recovering from a broken neck, recently described him as a monster. That seems fair enough as he stands 6ft 3ins tall and weighs in at 19st 11lbs.
And it markss some change for the Dragons to have five members of the squad after all their well-documented problems. Brown and Dee are joined by regional captain Cory Hill, Hallam Amos and Tyler Morgan. It may well have been six had Griffiths not been sidelined.
Signs of the green shoots of recovery have been in evidence at Rodney Parade for a while and this squad selection is further proof of that.
Progress has been steady and results are slowly improving but they will get better. Player quality, the number of coaches, and backroom staff expertise have all increased dramatically. And head coach Bernard Jackman, who oversees the lot, is planning significant recruitment in the new year.
The Scarlets, meanwhile, are really up against it if they are to get out of their pool in the European Champions Cup after two defeats, albeit by narrow margins.
But they continue to set the standard with some scintillating rugby which is also reflected in the Wales squad. Reasons to be optimistic, therefore, as a new-look Wales takes shape.