Recently the Welsh back row has been known for its immense talent.
For instance, despite injuries to Talupe Faletau, Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate Wales are still dominant in the back row. Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi came to prominence in the Autumn and have been glorious at the start of the Six Nations. Furthermore, Tipuric can’t get into the starting lineup despite going on two Lions tours. This shows a large amount of depth Wales have and the number of players who could play for Wales in the future.
Looking forward towards the Japanese World Cup in 2019. We’ve seen in the past the intense need for depth in these tournaments. The tough nature of rugby combined with a strenuous and gruelling set of matches. Making it unlikely your starting XV will all be the first choice if you go far.
The Traditional Gatland Back Row
Taulupe Faletau (Bath)
Taulupe Faletau (Bath)
The monstrous number 8 has been making the hard yards and sending players into next week for many a year now. At 27 he will be hitting his prime in Japan. After a long-term stay at the Dragons as their constant top performer, Faletau left for Bath in 2016. Now after a standout Lions tour, the world has come to see what an amazing player he is. Sadly a knee ligament injury has ruled him out of the Six Nations this year. Yet this lets Wales find depth and talent. Unless injury strikes, it is almost certain Faletau will be Wales’ starting 8 at the World Cup as Wales have a relative lack of depth behind Faletau.
Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues)
As the twice Lions captain and Welsh captain, Sam is a fan and coach favourite. He’s had some outstanding form for the national team as captain for many years. He nearly led them to the World Cup Final in 2011 if it wasn’t for his unfortunate tip tackle. Going to school alongside welsh sporting legends Gareth Bale and Geraint Thomas the Whitchurch High lad was destined for greatness. However, despite the Welsh success, Warburton has never quite cracked it at club level. Having been in his home region the Cardiff Blues all his career. A series of major injuries have blighted his career but the big tackles, hard hits and the way he boosts those around him are immeasurable attributes.
However, a change in tactics to a more fast-paced and attacking dominated game plan some in the media and fan base question whether the great servant of Welsh rugby will be a starting flanker in future. In my opinion, Gatland will never drop him due to the way he boosts those around him as well as the silent work he does around the pitch. However, we’ll have to wait and see for when he returns from injury. Gatland will be scratching his head wondering what to do.
Dan Lydiate (Ospreys)
A top class blindside flanker famous for the chop tackle. The Ospreys man has impressed for years alongside both Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. He does the hard work at the breakdown and in the tackle. Allowing the openside to do the more magical runs and jobs around the park. Like Warburton as Gatland and Wales move towards a more attacking system similar to that of the Scarlets Lydiate may be no longer be needed especially with Wales’ depth. But that’s not all, as the game has progressed, the breakdown is less of a competition. Refs are now favouring the attackers, so his breakdown work is more or less obsolete.
Lydiate seems under threat from all angles and may no longer command a starting or bench place.
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
His famous blue scrum cap has been seen around the globe on his two Lions tours and his many years of experience for Wales. However, his exciting and dynamic play that was honed on the sevens circuit back in 2010/2011 has barely ever warranted a start. Forever being behind Sam Warburton in the pecking order. Since the autumn he’s been behind another Cardiff Blues player in Josh Navidi. An excellent skillset Tipuric still has lots to give as his attacking ways will fit perfectly into the new Welsh play.
The New Guard
Ross Moriarty (Gloucester moving to Dragons)
Primarily a 6, Moriarty fits in nicely at 8 in the absence of Talupe Faletau. A bit of a temper, as well as humongous tackles and hits, makes it obvious he is Paul Moriarty’s son. His move to the Dragons next season brings hope to Welsh rugby by the homecoming heroes such as Moriarty. Already a sweetheart to the Welsh fans in love with the tough attitude and tackles. As the poster boy of the ‘new’ Dragons, Moriarty’s popularity is only set to increase. In 2019 he’ll be 25 so hitting his prime. He already has 19 caps so will have plenty of experience going into one of the most gruelling competitions on earth. His versatility and hard work surely won’t go unnoticed by Warren Gatland.
Aaron Shingler (Scarlets)
A man coming late to the party at 30. Shingler has obviously grown under Wayne Pivac and has finally earnt his jersey. His running lines and passing give him an edge not all blindside flankers have. Yet this doesn’t stop him doing the hard work and making the hard yards. Once his outstanding domestic form got him into the squad, injuries gave him a chance, since then the Scarlets man has never looked back. Forming a formidable partnership with Josh Navidi, he has had many wonderful performances. His ease with the Scarlets game plan has allowed his domestic form to easily transfer over to the international stage. Admittedly Shingler will be 32 by the World Cup yet like a fine wine this one has improved with age.
Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues)
His physique makes you not expect an amazing player, yet his performances have kept Justin Tipuric exiled to the bench. His dreadlocks can be seen all around the park indicating his work rate as well as how useful he has become. Despite calls from the media and fans Navidi hadn’t really had a chance before the autumn. However, any idea he isn’t international standard has been expelled by his mega performances. Whether he keeps his place going forward depends on his performances as well as how Gatland sees his team going forward.
James Davies (Scarlets)
Cubby Boi as his knuckles say is a special talent. The younger brother of Jonathan Davies, he shows similar attacking belief and support lines. Known for his cheeky attitude just as much as his ferocious work rate and exceptional skill set. He would fit perfectly in with the many Scarlets in the squad such as Aaron Shingler, Gareth Davies and Ken Owens to name just a few. Even without his in-depth knowledge of the Scarlets-esque game plan, his skills and attacking work, shown by his Olympic silver medal for 7s in Rio. This would warrant inclusion as Wales look to be more attacking. If Davies does succeed at this level he will sit among Virimi Vakatawa and Rieko Ioane as recent graduates of the 7s finishing school.
Thomas Young (Wasps)
As Dai Young’s son, he has a rather big shadow to fill. He’s impressed over the past few years as he has slotted into a star-studded team at Wasps. He knows how to play amongst international backrowers with James Haskell and Nathan Hughes frequently playing alongside him for the Coventry based side. Gaining his debut in 2017, Young hasn’t been given much game time by Gatland. Perhaps a move to one of the regions would help the promising but prevalent flanker get into a deeply competitive back row.
Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues)
Some see the Church Village born man as a miniature Sam Warburton. Like Warburton, he captained the under 20s and shows natural leadership traits. Having just returned from injury, Jenkins has gone straight into captaining this region. He has never failed to throw himself into every challenge for the Blues showing his great attitude and love for the game. A hardworking player Jenkins has natural talent yet the 6ft tall 24-year-old has room to improve and develop. Jenkins could be the future 7 and captain of Wales.
Ollie Griffiths (Dragons)
Only 22 the flanker native to Newport has a long career ahead of him. Next year he should form a formidable partnership with Ross Moriarty and Harri Keddie, this partnership with Moriarty is bound to benefit his Welsh career. We know how important it is to know your teammates and how they play especially in tough international games. With his first cap coming on the summer tour the men of Gwent will be hoping Griffiths will help grow the ever-struggling region and develop himself into a great international talent.
Bolters and Young Talent
This doesn’t even go into the potential bolters. Just at Ospreys, there is Dan Baker, Olly Cracknell, James King and the man in hiding Sam Cross. All of these players have been in the wider squad with all but Cracknell gaining at least one cap.
In exile are some more traditional bolters. The hype began over Sam Moore recently as despite playing for England under 20s this year both his father, Steve and uncle, Andy played for Wales. The number 8 currently plays for Sale and is yet to choose between Wales and England. With Wales having been in touch he could feature prominently if Wales lose a few number 8s to injury.
One of the players leading the revolution is Harri Keddie. With a tough attitude and great skill, Keddie could be a great talent for Wales. Blessed with natural leadership the 21-year-old has already captained the Dragons on many occasions.
Thanks for reading, let me know in the comments:
1. Who do you think will be starting for Wales come Japan 2019?
2. Do you think any of the ‘bolters’ will make it into the team?
3. Who do you reckon is the best talent in the Welsh back row?
4. Does any other team have so much depth in the back row?
5. Does this help towards winning a World Cup?
6. Are Wales behind on their development?
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.