Wales are going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan in a very good place. They are off the back of a tremendously successful unbeaten Autumn series and a Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign. We take a look at the Wales Rugby squad depth.
Wales Rugby Squad Depth
Domestically, this season has been a slight step back. In recent years Welsh club teams have been at the forefront of European rugby, with the Scarlets twice reaching the PRO14 final in 2017 and 2018 as well as making the 2018 Champions Cup semi-final. The Cardiff Blues have also shown their presence at club level, beating Gloucester to win the 2018 Challenge Cup. A key factor in what makes them such a good squad and the reason why they are looking like one of the best teams ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup is their depth.
Obviously there are key players whose absence will be sorely missed but in the event of their injury they can be replaced with an able substitute, admittedly at the team’s expense but that is par for the course for any team.
We take a look at Wales’ options in each position and assess their depth ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Rob Evans has been a mainstay in the Welsh front row over the last four years and has really developed into a top international forward. His rock solid work in the tight, as well as his impressive skills in the loose will be needed for Wales this campaign.
Behind Evans, Nicky Smith and Wyn Jones are respectable deputies to this role. Gatland has done well to gradually expose these two, particularly Smith, to top level international rugby; Smith started in the first Six Nations games this year. Wales also have the young talent of Saracens-bound Rhys Carre. He has produced some eye catching performances this year. Whether he will feature in this year’s tournament remains to be seen.
Hooker is potentially one of Wales’ weaker positions in terms of depth. In the event of an injury to the incumbent Ken Owens, who has spearheaded Wales’ tight five for so long, it is the job of Elliot Dee or Ryan Elias to fill his spot. Whilst these two have shown their talent and ability at a domestic level, ideally, you would want them to be more established at international level. Perhaps the four warm up fixtures in August would be an opportunity to allow Dee or Elias to start a sequence of top level international rugby as opposed to acting as second fiddle to Owens.
This is a solid area of the Wales squad where you would be fairly pleased with whoever starts. Tomas Francis and Samson Lee have proved to be reliable operators in the Welsh pack and have shown to be Test match animals by consistently featuring in Wales’ campaigns over the last few years. Dillon Lewis would be more than comfortable starting big matches after showing his ability in the last 18 months. The Dragons tighthead Leon Brown looks hugely promising but will require some more exposure before he is ready for top level test matches.
This area of Wales’ pack has improved massively in the last few years. The search for the irreplaceable Alun-Wyn Jones’ deputy has been successful with a range of options being found.
Adam Beard has performed well when he has featured and has still yet to lose a match for Wales. Meanwhile the ever-present Jake Ball and Bradley Davies have shown they can be more than effective. Also, Cory Hill has developed into a top class second row. In an emergency, the versatile Aaron Shingler could do a job in the tight if need be.
Wales are arguably the most well equipped team in the back row department in world rugby even after Sam Warburton’s retirement. Wales could put out a second choice, possibly even third choice back row and still be able to mix it with the top teams in world rugby. They are blessed with world-class player after world-class player. Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi, just to name a few. Aaron Wainwright has shown promise with several energetic showings off the bench and it encouraging to see the talented James Davies back in the mix. It is testament to their depth in this area that one of the most consistent club players in England, Thomas Young, has barely got a look in for Wales. They are spoilt for choice in the back row.
Embed from Getty ImagesScrum Half
This is an area of potential concern for Wales as there is less choice and will definitely need to be addressed this summer during the warm up games. Gareth Davies has nailed down the number nine shirt, however behind him is Tomos Williams and Aled Davies who could do with some more game time at the top level.
Gatland should ensure that either one of these two has an extended run of games when they play England and Ireland this summer just to ensure Wales have full confidence in each of their three scrum half options.
Wales are lucky to have three fly halves who each could do a job in the number ten jersey. Gareth Anscombe has orchestrated an unbeaten autumn and Grand Slam Six Nations campaign.
Rhys Patchell starred when he started against Scotland with an eye-catching performance in last years’ Six Nations, and Dan Biggar’s ability to perform at the top stage is unquestionable. They also have the phenomenally talented Jarrod Evans waiting in the wings.
Embed from Getty ImagesCentre
Aside from Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, the player of the 2017 Lions tour, is another player who is such a loss to the team when he is absent. His telepathic defensive ability is so integral to Wales’ relentless defence.
He bails Wales out on so many occasions often flying out of the line to shut down try scoring opportunities. Not to mention his impressive ability to make line breaks regularly. Wales will benefit hugely from the return and presence of Scott Williams, a seasoned campaigner who can cover either the 12 or 13 shirt. Hadleigh Parkes has claimed the 12 jersey in the last 18 months and looks set to continue.
Owen Watkin has been exciting when he has featured and does not look out of place in the team. He will continue to push Parkes for a starting spot. If required George North or Hallam Amos can even cover outside centre in a worst case scenario. This is not an area to worry about for Wales.
Wing has been another area in which Wales have improved in terms of depth recently. For many years, there was an over reliance on George North and Alex Cuthbert on the wing. In the last few seasons, the likes of Josh Adams, Hallam Amos and Jonah Holmes have been introduced into the position.
Steff Evans hasn’t featured in recent matches but a fit and firing Evans is incredibly useful to the team. The in-form Liam Williams is more than comfortable on either wing. It is encouraging to see the impressive Owen Lane make the squad. His raw pace, size and athleticism is exciting and he looks like he is in the mould of wingers that Gatland favours. He can be brought in should Wales need an additional physical edge.
Embed from Getty ImagesFull Back
Wales can field a range of players in the number 15 shirt. Liam Williams is in the form of his life and he is arguably the top full back in the world at the moment. However he primarily plays on the wing for his club Saracens.
Leigh Halfpenny is incredibly consistent and his contributions to the team are invaluable. Gareth Anscombe is extremely comfortable at 15. With him at fullback perhaps later in a game with Biggar at 10 offers a new dynamic to their attack with two playmakers.
Hallam Amos and Jonah Holmes both have international experience at full back. Amos was heavily involved during last years’ series against Argentina whilst Holmes looked solid and exciting in the autumn against Tonga.
Wales are in good shape going into the World Cup. Potentially some more depth in the hooker and scrum half position is required but that can be easily rectified with the summer warm up games in August. Gatland has done a good job of subtly introducing fringe players to the starting 15 and acclimatising them to Test match rugby. Second row Adam Beard is the best example of this. After a successful summer tour of Argentina, he was given the opportunity to start a run of games last autumn. He has gone from a relatively new member of the squad, to a fully fledged Test match player who is unbeaten and has a Grand Slam to his name.
The same goes for Josh Adams. He was put into a first choice team and was allowed to perform in a fully firing squad that allowed him to show his full ability. He is now one of the first names on the team sheet. This has been done for the majority of the players in the squad and now Wales have a range of options in each position and each of the options could do a solid job.
Wales will fancy their chances in this years’ World Cup with their talented squad that is bristling with depth.
Embed from Getty Images