Justin Tipuric has been omitted from Wales' starting XV for their Saturday night showdown with England at Twickenham for their Rugby World Cup pool A fixture
by David Marsh
Despite strong performances recently, including a colossal display against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, 26-year-old Tipuric has had to make way in the starting XV as Warren Gatland opts with his tried and tested back row combination of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau.
The trio are Wales’ most capped back row trio ever after breaking the record of 19 games set by Dai Morris, Mervyn Davies and John Taylor back in 1973.
Those who back Tipuric for a starting role will encourage others to cast their minds back to the 30-3 demolition of England in the 2013 Six Nations. With Lydiate out injured, Gatland shifted his captain Sam Warburton to the blind-side in order to accommodate Tipuric into the team in his preferred position of open-side.
It proved to be a masterstroke.
Neath-born Tipuric was in truly world class form that day. He out-witted his English back row counterparts up front, and his ability to join in the attacks saw him create both of Alex Cuthbert‘s tries on a day where he could simply do no wrong.
Although Gatland’s preferred back row of Lydiate, Warburton and Faletau have more often than not performed consistently well, Tipuric brings excitement and attacking flair to Wales’ back row. Leaving out such a talent from the starting XV must be a tough decision to make.
Tipuric is more of an old fashioned rugby player. Among a generation of rugby players who are man mountains with Greek-god like physiques, Tipuric bucks the trend.
Physical size is not so important to Tipuric. His strengths are not rugby-league style straight running or bone shattering hits in defence.
Instead, Tipuric counts on his astute awareness and an incredible variety of ball skills to make his own impact. Such skills that would not make him look out of place in a starting Welsh XV including legends such as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennet, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams. All of whom are revered for their artistry with ball in hand.
Ironically, it is thanks to Tipuric’s style of play that he has been left out of the starting team this Saturday.
His size, or perhaps lack of, has been a constant snag for Tipuric in his attempts to cement himself a starting spot in the Welsh team.
As Gatland looks to go toe to toe with England’s pack, he has been forced to drop the creative Tipuric in favour of the more physical presence that Lydiate provides. Lydiate is a brick wall in defence and will be under the orders of stopping England’s back row attacks in loose play.
Gatland could have viewed Tipuric as too lightweight to be given this type of task, and considered Lydiate as a much more suitable candidate to thwart the lambasting runs from the likes of 19-stone powerhouse Billy Vunipola.
However, Gatland is blessed with the option of bringing Tipuric into the fray if the game opens up late on.
The world’s most capped prop Gethin Jenkins is joined in the front row by Scott Baldwin and the somewhat unproven but promising Tomas Francis. The equally promising Samson Lee has earned himself a place on the bench after recovering in time from injury.
The English scrum has come under some criticism in the last few weeks. They came off second best against France in a warm-up defeat at the Stade de France and were given problems by Fiji on the opening night last Friday.
Getting the edge over England up front will be vital if Wales hope to cause an upset and defeat the host nation in their back yard. The encounter up front is set to be a brutal one, and Gatland will need his biggest and most physical men to get the better of the English pack.
For this season, he has had no choice but to drop Justin Tipuric for undoubtedly one of the biggest test matches in Welsh rugby history.
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Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, Hallam Amos; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gethin Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton C, Taulupe Faletau.
Repalcements: Ken Owens, Aaron Jarvis, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, Alex Cuthbert.