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Wales: Five to watch against England

Wales: Five to watch against England

Wales: Five to watch against England

Warren Gatland’s Wales get their Summer Nations Series campaign underway on Saturday afternoon as England visit the Principality Stadium.

By the time the first whistle sounds in Cardiff, there will be just 36 days until Wales’s first match of Rugby World Cup 2023.

Taking on Steve Borthwick’s England for consecutive weeks to start their summer campaign, Wales will also face defending world champions South Africa, there are hard decisions ahead for Gatland.

With three debutants in the starting XV, as well as two among the replacements, and a new captain in Jac Morgan, it is clear there is opportunity for many to stake a claim for a World Cup selection.

Jac Morgan

Making his Wales debut 18 months ago, 23-year-old openside flanker Morgan has been named as Wales captain for the first time.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons to Sam Warburton, who at the age of 22 was handed the captaincy by Gatland ahead of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Clearly seen as a significant part of this Wales side by his coach, Morgan starts in the back row alongside fellow starlet Christ Tshiunza, while Aaron Wainwright rounds out the trio.

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It is at the breakdown that Morgan excels, but he also has versatility on his side. Playing across the back row across the duration of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, there is stern competition across his position with the likes of Taine Basham, Tommy Reffell and Taine Plumtree waiting in the wings.

With such competition around that position group, Morgan still needs to impress this weekend regardless of the faith his head coach has in him.

Max Llewellyn

Gloucester-bound centre Max Llewellyn certainly cuts an imposing figure. Att 6ft 5ins tall, the son of Wales legend, Gareth, the 24-year-old’s debut comes at an integral time of development for Wales’ midfield.

Partnered with the 100-cap George North in the centres for his debut, Llewellyn will be hoping to capture some of the Cardiff Rugby form which helped him catch the eye of Gatland.

A physical, fast, skilful and imposing ball carrier, Llewellyn is just as capable of rounding a defender as he is running over the top of them.

That is all before mentioning his defensive capability, which is similarly complete and makes him one of the top prospects in this Wales side.

With Mason Grady named among the replacements, the need to impress quickly is apparent for Llewellyn.

Sam Costelow

Despite being young in years, Sam Costelow has already established himself as the heir-apparent to Dan Biggar. Just 22, the fly-half gets his first start in a Wales jersey after making his debut in the 2022 Autumn Nations Series.

Starting in all but one of his 19 Scarlets appearances last season, Costelow is competing among an experienced group of playmakers for further caps.

Biggar is named on the bench for this weekend’s clash, while Gareth Anscombe and Owen Williams will be hoping for an outing at Twickenham in a weeks’ time.

With Gareth Davies starting at scrum-half, Costelow will have the familiarity of his club teammate to help unpick England’s defence and will surely be relishing the opportunity to leave a mark on proceedings.

Keiron Assiratti

Both Keiron Assiratti and his Cardiff Rugby teammate, Corey Domachowski, have been given debuts from the off in the front-row.

Both aged 26, tighthead prop Assiratti has stern competition in his position, with the established Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis also contending for places. Henry Thomas, who is named on the bench, is also in line for a debut.

Warren Gatland spoke in June about Assiratti’s outrageous skillset, the 120kg prop possessing impressive handling and footwork, the New Zealander telling Scrum V “he could be a brilliant 10 if he lost 40kg”.

Already firmly in his coach’s mind, a positive performance could put him in an even better standing as the summer rages on.

Taine Plumtree

Making his debut from the bench will be Taine Plumtree. Perhaps the biggest unknown among this Wales squad, the Swansea-born flanker is the son of former New Zealand assistant coach, John.

Confirmed to be joining Scarlets in late-June, Plumtree also qualifies for South Africa through his mother and could well be a significant player for Wales in the year to come.

Impressing for the Blues in his Super Rugby Pacific outings over the past two seasons, the 23-year-old’s fast-track into the squad shows the potential he has.

With Warren Gatland liking what he has seen on the training ground, an impressive performance could see the flanker gain further opportunities.

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