Warren Gatland named his 2015 World Cup squad on bank holiday Monday, largely choosing tried and tested combinations, but laced with a couple of surprises
A regulation split of 17 forwards and 14 backs formed the 31-man Wales World Cup squad, which hail predominantly from the regions, which is a testament to the efforts of WRU to keep their players at home.
The front row options are as many predicted: the experienced 115-cap Gethin Jenkins who is now the world’s most capped forward (if you include his five Lions Test appearances) and 61-cap Paul James, Aaron Jarvis and the largely untested Exeter Chiefs tighthead Tomas Francis. Arguably Wales’ most important player, Samson Lee, is in despite not playing since picking up an Achilles tendon injury in March. Rob Evans, the Scarlets loosehead is the unfortunate one to miss out, though he remains with the squad for the Italy Test.
Gatland has controversially chosen to go with only two hookers. They are Ospreys’ Scott Baldwin and Scarlets’ Ken Owens. Kristian Dacey is the No 2 to miss out and Richard Hibbard is waiting in the wings.
The second row have been given an extra place in the squad as Dominic Day is drafted in to cover for Alun Wyn Jones while he recovers from medial ligament knee-injury. Jake Ball, Luke Charteris, who is also carrying shoulder, back and neck complaints, and Bradley Davies were also selected.
Taulupe Faletau is the only No. 8 picked in the squad with no obvious cover, one assumes that captain Sam Warburton, who played there at age-grade level, would fill in. Warburton joins fellow Lions Dan Lydiate to form the first-choice back row. Other choices include Justin Tipuric, who has won Man of the Match awards in the last two games and the versatile James King. One surprise omission was Ross Moriarty, who can play at No 6 or 8 leaving Wales threadbare at the base of the scrum.
Scrum-halves Rhys Webb, Gareth Davies and Lloyd Williams have usurped Mike Phillips and point to Wales playing a quicker-paced, higher-tempo game.
Dan Biggar will start at fly-half, with Rhys Priestland, who was first-choice in the 2011 World Cup, deputising. One suprise is the selection of ‘Nipper’ Matthew Morgan, who will be looked at to open up gaps in broken-field play late in the game. While he’s an outside-half for Bristol, he’s viewed more as a full-back at Test level, and even on the wing. Read Shane Williams, circa, 2003.
Gareth Anscombe has narrowly missed out on the squad, after his October move from New Zealand. An ankle injury sustained in training deemed him too much of a risk with Liam Williams and Samson Lee already going into the tournament carrying knocks.
Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams will undoubtedly be the first-choice centre-pair, in Jonathan Davies’ absence and will bring all their combined 101-cap experience to the fore, even though Williams prefers to play at 12. Cory Allen, who had been carrying a shoulder-injury joins them, in place of Tyler Morgan, with plenty to prove to his doubters after a quiet second season.
Wingers selected are George North, who can cover at outside-centre, the versatile Hallam Amos and Alex Cuthbert, who has been back to re-find his form, Eli Walker was the man to miss out.
Elsewhere in the back three, Leigh Halfpenny was selected at full-back, with support from Liam Williams who is expected to return from foot injury in time for the first game, and likely to line-up on the wing.
Wales 31-man squad
Props: Tomas Francis (1 Cap), Paul James (61 Caps), Aaron Jarvis (12 Caps), Gethin Jenkins (115 Caps), Samson Lee (12 Caps)
Hookers: Scott Baldwin (10 Caps), Ken Owens (28 Caps)
Second Rows: Jake Ball (13 Caps), Luke Charteris (56 Caps), Bradley Davies (46 Caps), Dominic Day (1 Cap), Alun Wyn Jones (90 Caps)
Back Row:Taulupe Faleatu (47 Caps), James King (5 Caps), Dan Lydiate (47 Caps), Justin Tipuric (33 Caps), Sam Warburton (Captain, 54 Caps)
Scrum Halves:Gareth Davies (3 Caps), Rhys Webb (15 Caps), Lloyd Williams (19 Caps)
Fly Halves: Dan Biggar (34 Caps), Rhys Priestland (28 Caps)
Centres: Cory Allen (2 Caps), Jamie Roberts (70 Caps), Scott Williams (31 Caps)
Back three: Hallam Amos (3 Caps), Alex Cuthbert (34 Caps), Leigh Halfpenny (61 Caps), Matthew Morgan (2 Caps), George North (50 Caps), Liam Williams (23 Caps)