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Sport The big Wales selection decisions facing Wayne Pivac and why Shane Lewis-Hughes could start against Scotland

16:42  28 october  2020
16:42  28 october  2020 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

The two completely different Wales teams Wayne Pivac can pick this autumn which are each quite strong

  The two completely different Wales teams Wayne Pivac can pick this autumn which are each quite strong Wales coach Pivac can have a Team A and a Team B for the autumn campaign and there is real talent in either sideSpoiled for choice or just completely indecisive?

Plenty of people have had their say over what the Wales team to face Scotland should be, but what will Wayne Pivac actually do?

With the pressure mounting after four straight defeats, how will the Kiwi coach shuffle his hand for Saturday’s rearranged Six Nations clash at Parc y Scarlets?

Rugby correspondent Simon Thomas looks at the key selection issues and comes up with a likely team.

Back three

The clamour here is for Pivac to start with teenage try sensation Louis Rees-Zammit.

But with all the talk about this being a “must-win” match, Pivac is more likely to go with experience in the back three.

The added element is that Lions Test star Liam Williams is now back fit and available again.

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He’s only had the one outing since March, following a foot injury, but he did look the sharpest player on the pitch during the Scarlets’ dour victory over Benetton last weekend.

So I would expect him to come into the starting line-up. The question then is who drops out?

Josh Adams is nailed on, while Leigh Halfpenny’s positional play, defensive solidity and ability under the high ball will be invaluable at full-back, especially with heavy rain forecast and no roof on Parc y Scarlets!

So I see Williams coming in on the wing for George North, who could provide wing and centre cover from the bench.

Prediction: Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Josh Adams.

Centres

Nick Tompkins made a big impact during the Six Nations with his play-making and passing and there was much anticipation over him linking up with the fit-again Jonathan Davies.

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But things didn’t really click in midfield against France, with Tompkins not having his best game.

Giving the rain-sodden forecast, Wales may well look to go for more of a direct option at 12 to provide the kind of go-forward that was missing in Paris, while also reinforcing the rearguard.

They could opt for the uncapped Johnny Williams, who has made a real impression with his carrying since joining the Scarlets.

But experience might well hold sway again, with squad regular Owen Watkin linking up with hard-running defensive marshall Davies.

Prediction: Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin

Half-back

With Rhys Webb having taken a bang to the knee against France, a change looks likely at No 9 and Gareth Davies is the obvious man to come in.

He will add a bit more physicality around the fringes and a forceful running threat, while if Wales are looking for someone to fly up in the defensive line, Davies has proved himself very adept at that job.

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I would expect Lloyd Williams to leapfrog Kieran Hardy in the pecking order to provide a seasoned tactical presence on the bench following his call-up to the squad.

At 10, some would like to see a more ball-in-hand, attack-minded option in Rhys Patchell or even the uncapped but bang in-form Callum Sheedy.

But with win at all costs being the mantra, the pragmatism and tactical control of Dan Biggar will doubtless get the nod, particularly with his ability to navigate the ship through the squall.

You can see him chasing his own up and unders and leaping skyward in trademark fashion a fair few times given the conditions.

Prediction: Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar


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Front row

The scrum was one of the few plusses in Paris, but a change is still likely here.

For one thing, Samson Lee is a doubt having sustained a head knock, which means he is going through the return-to-play protocols.

Moreover, Tomas Francis is back in the mix.

He had been Wales’ first-choice tighthead for a couple of years before a nasty shoulder injury in the World Cup semi-final against South Africa when he had the misfortune to run into Duane Vermeulen.

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So now that he’s available again, having been on Premiership final duty with Exeter last weekend, I would expect him to start and resume his scrum cornerstone role.

With Wyn Jones over a hamstring problem and Nicky Smith a try-scorer against France, there’s competition at loosehead.

But the need for forward carriers may well see Rhys Carre keep his place, with the same going for Ryan Elias at hooker.

Prediction: Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis

a man holding a football ball: Tomas Francis is back in the mix © Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency Tomas Francis is back in the mix

Second row

Who to partner Alun Wyn Jones at lock has been an ongoing debate for some time now, with the spot having rotated between Jake Ball, Cory Hill and Adam Beard, with Seb Davies a youthful athletic option.

But I suspect we may well see another candidate making his first start there on Saturday in the sizeable shape of Will Rowlands.

There has been much talk about the need to add physicality and carrying clout to the pack post-Paris and the 6ft 8ins, 19st 5lb Rowlands certainly offers a presence.

He also comes oven-ready from top-level club rugby having just played for Wasps in the Premiership final and Wayne Pivac is clearly an admirer.

The 29-year-old is a thoroughly modern lock, who gets through a truckload of work.

His tackle count is huge, his ball-carrying is really valuable and he’s also got a turn of pace for a big man, offering mobility and agility, in addition to being a reliable lineout operator.

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Clearly he is a rookie at this level, with just one outing off the bench.

But who better to guide him through than skipper Jones, who will become rugby’s most-capped player of all time when he appears in his 149th Test this weekend.

Prediction: Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones

a man holding a football ball: Will Rowlands in lineout action for Wasps in the Gallagher Premiership final against Exeter © Getty Images Will Rowlands in lineout action for Wasps in the Gallagher Premiership final against Exeter

Back row

Now this is where it gets really interesting.

There has been a lot spoken about Wales’ luxury of riches in the back row and we have certainly seen a conveyor belt of talent come through in that department.

But just at the moment, we are scratching round for the right combination, amid a number of absentees.

Things didn’t really gel there in Paris, with the breakdown being a real area of concern.

As I’ve said before, Josh Navidi would be the ideal man to come in, as there is no one better in terms of clearing out at the ruck, while he also offers real physicality in the collisions on either side of the ball, plus another jackaling presence.

But he won’t be available for another couple of weeks as he recovers from concussion, while Ross Moriarty is also sidelined with an ankle problem and the hamstrung Josh Macleod is not available to show off his unrivalled turnover work.

Thomas Young would be just what the doctor ordered, but he is ineligible under the 60-cap rule, which I have made clear I feel is harsh as he wasn’t offered a deal in Wales, while it’s now sadly almost two years since we have seen Ellis Jenkins’ excellence on the pitch.

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So where does that leave us?

Pivac could go with a dual openside option of James Davies and Justin Tipuric and “Cubby Boi” would certainly add to the armoury over the ball.

Alternatively, Aaron Wainwright could be handed another chance to get back to where he was a year ago.

But I just have a hunch Wales may opt for the uncapped Shane Lewis-Hughes at 6.

For me, Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau always play better when there’s someone in the back row doing the hard graft at the coal-face, allowing them to flourish in the wider channels.

Navidi filled that role perfectly and Lewis-Hughes fits the bill in the same way.

He is an absolute machine in terms of his tackle count, with echoes of Dan Lydiate at his best, while he would bring an edge and a physicality that was lacking in Paris.

At 6ft 4ins and 17st 11lbs, the 23-year-old from Ferndale also offers oomph as a carrier, while he is developing as a jackal and is a genuine lineout target.

He’s also clearly made a big impression since his call-up to the squad, based on what Pivac has said, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him handed his debut.

Prediction: Shane Lewis-Hughes, Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric

Wales (possible): Leigh Halfpeny; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Shane Lewis-Hughes, Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric.

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