Warren Gatland continues to introduce fresh talent to new-look Wales team

This week saw Warren Gatland embark on stage two of his rebuild, as he named his training squad to face South Africa and Australia this summer. The old walls are down, the existing foundations ripped up and the lorries full of fresh concrete are ready to pour.

The problem is everyone hates the rebuilding bit, they want to walk straight into the gleaming finished structure. If you’ve ever watched Grand Designs, you’ll have seen that even the most stable of people can be reduced to withering alcoholics after a tricky building project and a stretched budget.

When it comes to Gatland’s project, many Welsh rugby supporters are already nervous wrecks after another difficult season of regional rugby, and the mere mention of rebuilds (especially budgets) has them reaching for medication. But there are plenty of things to like about Gatland’s new squad and perhaps some aspects that may have some re-checking of the blueprints.

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In the ‘completed’ section of the rebuild, is the back row. Gatland now has a genuine stable of talented backrow forwards which he can mould. This is most apparent at number eight. Six months ago, most Welsh supporters were panicking about Taulupe Faletau’s replacement, yet his name has barely been mentioned due to Aaron Wainwright’s incredible form over the past 18 months.

Plus, there’s the return of Jac Morgan who could also be a very effective option – think Ben Earl, in red. And of course, both Taine Plumtree and Mackenzie Martin would also not be without their charms at the back of the scrum. Add in Tommy Reffell who cleans up the deck better than a Dyson collab with NASA, plus the potential of Christ Tshiunza, and it becomes slightly easier to see how the impressive Alex Mann, James Botham and half man/ half momentum Morgan Morris didn’t make the squad.

Morgan Morris was the absence which most caught the eye of Welsh supporters. In the URC his carrying has been robust enough to happily sit on a shelf at Travis Perkins. But as Gatland alluded to this week, rugby is a game of both attack and defence – the implication being that Morris has stuff to work on when he doesn’t have the ball. This isn’t the first time Gatland has given a promising player a major ‘work-on’ and many will be hoping that Morris will be part of the wider squad as Wales build toward the next Rugby World Cup.

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At lock Wales are missing the injured Adam Beard and the irreplaceable Will Rowlands. But this could be the opportunity for Dafydd Jenkins and Ben Carter to become legit test level locks. In many regards, Dafydd Jenkins already is. His work rate on both sides of the ball is probably illegal under most labour laws and during the Six Nations he was hitting attacking rucks like a nail gun – on many occasions he hit 30+ attacking rucks in 80 minutes.

The selection of Cory Hill raised a few eyebrows, especially when players like James Ratti and Huw Sutton have been raising their game. But Hill was a trusted member of Gatland’s previous squads, and that positivity may well have balanced out some of the negativity that surrounded his selection.

In the front row, Gatland continues with arguably the biggest part of his rebuild project. Gatland’s new ethos in the front row appears to be very much built on mobility as much as scrummaging stability – players such a Kemsley Mathius and Evan Lloyd are great examples of that. The two tests against Australia will arguably the games for mobile props, whilst the South African test will inevitably be a far greater scrummaging brief – with all four of the South African teams in the URC offering seriously impressive scrummaging this season.

Wales Six Nations squad

Liam Williams of Wales (Getty Images)

The back three remains one of the more balanced areas of selection. The experience of Josh Adams has been replaced by that of Liam Williams and in truth a break for Adams may do him good. Keelan Giles has finally been given the chance that he has long deserved. Given an injury free run, Giles has the potential to be the Welsh Kurt-Lee Arendse, who like Arendse, hits in the tackle as hard and fast as he hits a gap.

The impressive Josh Hathaway has joined the Welsh squad from Gloucester and becomes the latest name to join the greatest toing and froing between the Welsh and English since Ludlow Castle was it its pomp. But perhaps the most exciting addition to the squad in the back three is Jacob Beetham. He’s another member of the Cardiff Rugby squad who haven’t played much pro rugby yet, but clearly have the skills and dimensions required. A combination of Cam Winnett and Jacob Beetham would be a fantastic long-term option for both Wales and Cardiff Rugby.

One area where Wales supporters may look at the rebuild, then at the blueprints, then back at the rebuild, then back at the blueprints, is at outside half. Wales are only taking one legit ten in their squad in Sam Costelow, the other option being the versatile Ben Thomas – who is primarily a centre.

It’s an interesting selection to make for a four-match tour. As talented a player as Ben Thomas is, it means that Wales will play three test matches, and a club level tour game, with the same two players alternating between ‘starting’ and the bench. That’s a big workload even if you assume there will be no injuries to either. 

Some have questioned Gatland’s rebuild and even his long-term dedication to the role as Head Coach. But this selection proves that he is indeed fully committed to seeing this project through. If he wasn’t, his selections would be far more short-term, involving more senior players and less risk. That isn’t what’s happened, and I can’t wait to see how the rebuild looks – even if (as with all projects) it overruns slightly.

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