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Sport Wales' best player in each position this autumn as Basham emerges and North's midfield partner for Six Nations is found

13:45  21 november  2021
13:45  21 november  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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It didn’t reach the stage where Wales were down to their fifth-choice bus driver, but Wayne Pivac could have been forgiven for wondering what he’d done to deserve the injuries that denied his team the services of so many players this autumn.

Under the circumstances, two wins from four matches was about the best the coach could hope for.

Who have been Wales’ best players over this campaign?

It’s subjective, but from here some stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

MARK ORDERS picks out the top performers in each area of the Wales team.

Back three: Liam Williams

Wales have had two outstanding back three players this autumn — Johnny McNicholl and Liam Williams.

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Of the two, Williams edges it as the top performing wing or full-back, with the 30-year-old close to his best since making a delayed start to the campaign.

The player Pivac once called ‘ rubber-band man ’ took hits against Australia that would have knocked others out of the game. The Scarlet rode them and came back for more. There’s tough, and then there’s Williams.

He inspired confidence with his skill and courage under the high ball; he counterattacked boldly; he threw himself into tackles.

It was a rousing follow-up after his man-of-the-match display against Fiji six days earlier.

Without him, Wales wouldn’t have beaten Australia.

A word, too, for McNicholl. He’s shown up well every time he’s taken the field. He’s a dangerous attacker but he’s also been good under the high ball. If Wales were playing next Saturday, it would be harsh were he not in the starting back three.

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Centre: Nick Tompkins

Wales' Nick Tompkins breaks away to score after intercepting an Australian pass © PA Wales' Nick Tompkins breaks away to score after intercepting an Australian pass

He’s the only centre to start three Wales games this autumn and he’s performed well in all of them.

Tompkins is a buzz-bomb of a player.

Rarely does he have a quiet match.

Few Welsh players showed up in attack against New Zealand but he managed to beat four players. There were also nine tackles.

In all he went past 16 defenders in this month, also passing the ball 30 times and never hiding in defence.

And, at 26, he’s in what’s seen as a good age bracket heading towards the next World Cup.

George North should be back imminently but this autumn Tompkins has been Wales’ best centre.

The pair wear the look of a Wales midfield partnership for the Six Nations.

Fly-half: Dan Biggar

Pivac has huge faith in Dan Biggar, starting with him in 16 of the 18 games for which the fly-half has been available to Wales since the New Zealander took over. And the Northampton Saints man rarely lets his coach down.

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He’s another one who’s made of the right stuff.

When he is a shade off colour, he can be relied on to hit back with a strong performance next time out.

His display against South Africa was excellent, with the 32-year-old marshalling play from the start and lifting Wales after their heavy loss to New Zealand the previous weekend.

And on Saturday against Australia he kept Wales in the game with his game management and accurate goal-kicking.

In between, he wasn’t at his best against Fiji, but his contribution against the two Rugby Championship sides was impressive.

Next best was Rhys Priestland, with a couple of cameos off the bench, the second of which saw him hold his nerve to secure Wales victory with a penalty at the death against Australia.

Scrum-half: Tomos Williams

It’s a bit of a one-horse race, this one, with Williams starting three of the four games.

That said, he’ll know he has room to improve.

There were promising signs against Australia with his running but the Wallabies put Williams under pressure as the game went on and we still await a whole-game Test effort from the 26-year-old that screams out top-of-the-range Wales class.

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Kieran Hardy was up and down in his start against Fiji, while Gareth Davies didn’t get a chance in a run-on side, though he did make a mark with a break down the wing in those frantic final seconds against Australia.

Front row: Ryan Elias

Let’s not put a gloss on it: it’s been a dismal campaign for Wales’ props, with South Africa smashing the Welsh scrum, Australia coming close to doing the same, New Zealand holding the upper hand and Fiji scoring a points verdict in that area of play.

Maybe we can forget about the props, then, for the purpose of this exercise.

But there has been a shining light in the front row.

Ryan Elias started the campaign receiving flak from far and wide after the Welsh lineout misfired badly against the All Blacks. Possibly, those manning the International Space Station that night were moved to argue “Wales should change their hooker”.

But Pivac stuck with him and he’s been rewarded, with Elias banging in a big effort against South Africa and following it up against Fiji with his best game for Wales.

If the odd glitch resurfaced in the Welsh lineout against Australia, he was throwing to a changed lock pairing, so maybe it was inevitable the odd ball would go astray.

But around the field Elias was again excellent.

His effort over the four games has been hugely encouraging for Pivac.

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Second row: Adam Beard

It’s a tight call between Beard and Will Rowlands, with the Dragons man filling in well for Alun Wyn Jones before being ruled out by a concussion picked up against Fiji.

But Beard’s leadership shades it.

The 6ft 8in Ospreys player has emerged as an important figure for Pivac, pointing the way for others and helping to cushion the heavy second-row losses Wales have suffered over the past six months.

There was sympathetic lineout calling that allowed Elias to regain his confidence against South Africa and Fiji and other clear signs that Beard thrives on responsibility.

Back row: Taine Basham

He’s had a stunning series, going a long way to justifying the hype that had built up around him before the autumn games started.

Basham has only just turned 22, as well.

The Dragon may not be the biggest but he’s at least three players rolled into one with his ability to carry, pilfer opposition possession, handle, offload and tackle.

He also plays with guts and spirit and the way he tore into the All Blacks showed he isn’t fazed by reputations.

In the young No. 7, Wales have a gem.

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Planet Rugby’s World Rankings for 2021 .
Planet Rugby features writer James While ranks the best international teams from 1 to 10 at the conclusion of a thrilling Autumn Nations Series.World Rugby’s list is somewhat different to our features writer James While’s run-down, so without further ado here comes our 10 sides in ascending order.

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