Despite the analogy of the fly-half factory of Wales, coming into the Six Nations Wales face a crisis at 10.
During the final round of the Champions Cup pool stages, both Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland picked up injuries. Despite the five fly-halves in the Welsh squad, two are injured for at least some of the Six Nations and the other three have been playing their rugby at 12 or 15. This means Wales are stuck going into one of the most competitive Six Nations in years. Gatland now has to choose which playmaker will lead his team in this key time in the run-up to the World Cup.
The options Gatland has in his squad are Rhys Patchell, Gareth Anscombe and Owen Williams. However, both Anscombe and Patchell started at fullback in the most recent round of the Champions Cup.
The majority of the Welsh press will be hoping for Rhys Patchell. The Scarlets man has been running things out west since his move from Cardiff. He’s guided them to be Pro12 champions as well as qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe for the first time in 11 years. The main reason people think he’s moved to fullback is due to a slower decision making and greater kicking game. Patchell, many see as the favourite to start the first games due to the amazing attacking play at the Scarlets.
Based on the Wales management some would say Anscombe is more likely to start. This is due to Gatland’s infatuation (at times) with past talents such as Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts. Anscombe is the main reason Patchell left as both wanted to play 10. Yet the irony is both commonly start at 15 now. He is a safe pair of hands but less attacking than many others.
The final option in the Wales squad is Owen Williams. The Gloucester man made his debut at inside centre this autumn. He has played that position frequently for Gloucester with Billy Burns at 10. The question is now if he can be the main playmaker, not just a secondary playmaker.
The up and coming star of the last Six Nations was Sam Davies. So now with the injuries, some will be calling for his inclusion in the squad. He’s been Biggar’s backup at Ospreys since his rise to prominence a few years back. Davies has proven class having controlled the second half of the Italy game last year. However, this year he has fallen off the boil like much of the Ospreys squad. This has resulted in his exclusion from the squad but with both Biggar and Priestland out. It wouldn’t be surprised if the once IRB Junior POTY was called up.
At only 22, Dan Jones is just breaking into the team at the Scarlets. Yet the games he has played, he’s had a dramatic influence on the game. He has proved he can cut it at top level due to his role in the Scarlets victory over Toulon. Jones offers a more attacking option compared to some of the others and despite the saying “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” Jones is likely to have to wait a few years before he starts in the 10 jersey for Wales.
A left-field shout is Matthew Morgan. His attacking ability is immense yet his defence needs major improvement. He is more of a 15 but has stated multiple times his desire to play fly-half. Some would argue he fits the mould of Damien McKenzie. Yet the pint-sized playmaker’s defence has let him down on far too many occasions to cut it at international level.
In my opinion, the best option for Gatland is to start Rhys Patchell against Scotland. Depending on how he fares against a strong and up and coming Scottish side, Gatland will have to decide if he’s the man for the job or to opt for one of the others.
Whatever the Welsh management decide we will find out on the 3rd of February as Scotland face Wales at the Principality Stadium. Kick off is at 2:15 pm with coverage on BBC, S4C, TV3, FR2, DMAX.
Author: Ollie Evans
I’m from South Wales and have grown up with rugby all around me and the Millenium Stadium on my doorstep. A massive fan of all things rugby, but never been particularly good despite having played since I was 6.