LAST TERM was a disaster for Wales as Wayne Pivac dealt with an injury list worthy of both Casualty and Holby City. Again this fall, it seems like every regional game has presented fresh challenges for the head coach.
On Monday, the team gathered for the upcoming Tests, which begin on November 5 against New Zealand.
One of the first tasks was to determine how many people were injured and how bad their wounds were.
The time required for the procedure was anticipated to be substantial.
If the current list of unavailable players holds true over the next couple of weeks, we take a look at the lineup Pivac might have to field against the All Blacks. Although highly improbable, this scenario is not completely out of the question.
No 15: Johnny McNicholl
Who exactly should we be worried about? Because of a hamstring injury, Leigh Halfpenny did not play for the Scarlets last Friday against Connacht. While Liam Williams is out for the series, the team is taking this measure as a precaution.
If not them, then who else might it be? Depending on the severity of Halfpenny’s injury, Pivac may be tempted to call up McNicholl from the Scarlets because he has experience playing fullback for Wales. If the team’s selectors choose with Louis Rees-Zammit or Josh Adams at the back, they run the risk of improving one area while hurting another due to the wingers’ injuries.
No. 15: Louis Rees-Zammit
Who exactly should we be worried about? Alex Cuthbert hasn’t played since the summer when he tore his shoulder while representing Wales against South Africa.
Who would take his place? Not relevant here, as Rees-Zammit would be one of the first names on any team sheet. Despite recent rumours he is having ankle trouble, the Gloucester player finished his team’s match against the London Irish last Friday and there has been no official word on his condition since. One of Wales’ deadliest weapons is expected to be at full strength for preseason training, and the selectors are crossing their fingers.
No. 13: Owen Watkin
Who exactly is the source of worry? On Sunday against the Dragons, with 55 minutes left to play, George North left the game with a knee injury. He was playing well at the time, always getting through the opposition’s initial line of defence with brute force and speed. Whether or not his injury is serious is unclear at this moment, but Ospreys head coach Toby Booth sounded optimistic following the Rodney Parade encounter.
Who would take his place? Watkin, because the other option is Joe Hawkins, who doesn’t have a cap. Watkin is an experienced veteran and a powerful defender. Wales, meanwhile, would not have given up hope entirely on North.
No. 12: Nick Tompkins
He is now a staple in the Saracens midfield and has started eight of Wales’ last ten Tests. Pivac appreciates his hard work and dedication to the team. There are no casualties, so he can begin.
No. 11: Rio Dyer
Josh Adams, a player for Cardiff, hurt his thumb on October 15 while playing against the Dragons. Josh has a chipped bone in his thumb, which might keep him out for two to four weeks, according to Arms Park’s head coach Dai Young. After two weeks, pain management becomes an issue. So it’s down to the wire.
Who could take his place?
For this role, Rio Dyer is a strong candidate. What a wonderful Sunday afternoon the 22-year-old had in Rodney Parade. He scored two tries and had the speed and courage to blast past any defence. To top it all off, he dropped an f-bomb during the broadcast. Young people tend to act impulsively sometimes, so we’ll chalk that up to their age.
Perhaps Wayne Pivac would like to gradually introduce the uncapped winger to the Test rotation, but if Messrs. Adams and Cuthbert are unable to play due to injury, the rookie could be thrust into the spotlight much sooner than he had anticipated.
No. 10 Rhys Priestland
Worrying who? Dan Biggar is out for the season, and Gareth Anscombe has only started two games this year. The Ospreys haven’t played since October 1 when Dan Biggar hurt his ribs against the Glasgow Warriors. He has been participating in regional training, but is not yet cleared to return to game action.
The 31-year-old is an excellent player who has plenty of experience coming back from injuries, but he may benefit from playing several games before facing New Zealand.
To argue they are not competition for anyone to be undercooked against is to assert the obvious.
Who else could possibly go first in this game?
Specifically, Priestland, who just played No. 10 brilliantly for Cardiff against the Stormers on Saturday night. This was the best performance by a Welsh No. 10 all season, so Pivac shouldn’t be too worried about the west Walian getting the nod. Possibly the best performance by a Welsh fly-half in the region in recent years.
No. 9: Tomos Williams
Pivac’s starting lineup features three healthy, consistent No. 9s.
The coach opted to start Kieran Hardy in all three summer Tests in South Africa, but Williams has been producing significant games as of late, particularly in a strong showing alongside Priestland against the Stormers. Williams has been showing invention and sharpness. As an added bonus, he has been a part of a winning regional team, which may strengthen his case.
Although Taulupe Faletau is questionable to start after sitting out Cardiff’s match against the Stormers with a calf injury, the pack Pivac would likely want to use is not severely injured. With no other specialist No. 8 options in the squad chosen last week save Faletau, Ross Moriarty would likely be called up if the worst were to happen in his situation, but it seems safe to think that it won’t if the latest soundings from Cardiff are taken into account.
Ospreys hooker Dewi Lake appeared to have picked up a potentially serious shoulder knock against the Dragons, joining teammate Wyn Jones on the sidelines. But it was still unclear whether or not he would have been included in the run-on team.
Pivac must make some difficult decisions at the 6th and 7th spots. Should he continue with the summer’s hotshots Dan Lydiate and Tommy Reffell, or look to Christ Tshiunza, Jac Morgan, and Justin Tipuric as alternative starters?
How highly he places value on experience and how quickly Tipuric recovers from his recent injury are two of the most important factors to consider. The same can be said for hooker, where Ken Owens will compete with Ryan Elias and the like.
Nicky Smith, who plays loosehead prop, has been terrific.
Will Pivac in South Africa stick with his players? He probably will, given the chance. This could mean that Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Will Rowlands, Dan Lydiate, and Tommy Reffell are the only ones left in the starting lineup. A call to Moriarty from an upset Faletau is a near certainty.
But much of the trouble can be found behind the commotion.
In that place, difficulties surround you at every turn, and nothing is as simple as it seems.