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Projected Starter Series: Wales

Projected Starter Series: Wales

Wales celebrate after Rhys Priestland kicks a penalty to win the game

Wales made history in the summer when defeating South Africa in their own backyard for the first time ever  – now they look to keep up the momentum in the Autumn Nations Series. 

Wayne Pivac will want to see improvement after a Guinness Six Nations campaign in which they claimed a single win, over Scotland, losing to Italy in Cardiff in Round 5.

That defeat seemed to give Wales renewed hunger, as they headed to South Africa to prove a point and claimed a historic second Test victory.

With Pivac and Wales hungry to prove the doubters wrong again, starting against New Zealand on 5 November, before clashes with Argentina, Georgia and Australia, who will make the starting XV?

Front Row 

Wales have still yet to really nail down a consistent starting front row since the legendary era of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, but in the summer, they were able to play the same front row in all three Tests.

Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias and Dillon Lewis started and fared well against South Africa’s famous bomb squad and so it seems likely that, barring injury, it will again be that trio that will start against New Zealand.

Ryan Elias scores a try

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Dewi Lake’s nasty shoulder injury has him out for the season but recalled Ken Owens should push Elias for minutes, while Tomas Francis provides Lewis with significant competition.

Second Row 

Wales are also well stocked in the second row, with the exact same combination involved in all three Tests – Will Rowlands and Adam Beard starting and Alun Wyn Jones coming on as a replacement.

Jones, 37, is the most capped player in the history of Test rugby with 165 caps, and that experience coming off the bench is simply invaluable, while Rowlands and Beard have formed a solid combination over the past few months.

Back Row 

In the summer Wales unearthed yet another back row star in Leicester Tigers’ Tommy Reffell.

Reffell earned his debut against the Springboks and immediately looked right at home in the Test arena, and he will surely be involved this autumn.

But with Justin Tipuric named as Wales captain for the Autumn Nations Series, he will command a starting berth alongside experienced duo Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau.

Half-backs 

Skipper Dan Biggar’s injury presents an opportunity to one of Wales’ prospective fly-halves.

In the squad are Gareth Anscombe, uncapped Sam Costelow and Rhys Priestland and it seems as though Priestland, who starred in a stunning win for Cardiff over reigning United Rugby Championship winners the Stormers last weekend, will take the reins of Wales.

Priestland’s Cardiff teammate Tomos Williams was chosen as a replacement in all three Tests with Kieran Hardy the man in possession at scrum-half.

Centres 

Wales’ backline is an area of concern for Pivac with Johnny Williams and George North both ruled out.

That leaves only three recognised centres in the squad – Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins and uncapped Joe Hawkins.

Watkin has become a solid option for Wales since last year’s Guinness Six Nations, and while he may not have as much attacking flair or strength as the likes of North, defensively he is outstanding and due to his sheer size is often able to get over the gain line.

Tompkins will almost certainly continue his stint at inside centre after a promising start to the season at unbeaten Gallagher Premiership side Saracens in a partnership that is tried and tested, at least to some degree.

Back Three 

Wales have been decimated in this area with Liam Williams, North, Leigh Halfpenny and Josh Adams all suffering injuries of some description and Alex Cuthbert yet to play a single minute this season.

Gareth Anscombe has plenty of experience at full-back and may well be the chosen one to deputise for the injured pair this autumn should Halfpenny fail to recover.

Louis Rees-Zammit will surely occupy one wing, but who joins him is difficult to say, with Cuthbert’s experience likely to prevail over pitching the uncapped Rio Dyer into a clash with the All Blacks.

Possible Wales starting XV: 

15 Gareth Anscombe

14 Louis Rees-Zammit

13 Owen Watkin

12 Nick Tompkins

11 Alex Cuthbert

10 Rhys Priestland

9 Kieran Hardy

1 Gareth Thomas

2 Ryan Elias

3 Dillon Lewis

4 Adam Beard

5 Will Rowlands

6 Dan Lydiate

7 Justin Tipuric (C)

8 Taulupe Faletau

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