Wales still not at full strength for Summer Tour to New Zealand
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | May 11, 2016
Warren Gatland must be starting to wonder if he will ever be able to field what is considered to be Wales’ first-choice XV again, as he takes the Dragons on a Summer Tour to his native New Zealand still without some key names.
At international level, Welsh rugby is becoming a what if story. Had they not suffered so many injuries, they would’ve given a better account of themselves at last autumn’s World Cup.
Dragons skipper Sam Warburton at least returns after being stretchered off against England in the match that effectively decided the Six Nations Championship this spring, but again that hardly softens the blow of disappointments.
Halfpenny remains out of contention
Toulon full back Leigh Halfpenny is only on standby, amid rumours he was allegedly told he would forfeit his club wages if he got injured playing for Wales this summer.
“We’ve spoken to Leigh and we’ve picked a standby list and he’s part of that,” said Gatland. “He understands he does need some games and he’s happy to be on a standby list.
“He hasn’t been involved in rugby since September and his return to play isn’t too far away, he’s started some running now.
“Maybe there’s a possibility he’ll get a few games for Toulon and maybe the potential to call him in later in the tour if there are injuries and he does get some form back.”
Tipuric and Cuthbert missing
Flanker Justin Tipuric is another absence, and Gatland has been bold in his squad selection by naming no direct replacement. Couple this with skipper Warburton’s return from a shoulder problem, and a weakened back row might be the kind of chink in Welsh armour the All Blacks will exploit.
Alex Cuthbert also misses this Tour after undergoing knee surgery, but he was very much in the shade of fellow winger George North during the Six Nations, who is fit to go on Tour. Tom James and Eli Walker join Hallam Amos as the other wide options.
Gatland is taking something of a gamble on the fitness of popular lock Alun Wyn Jones, who hasn’t played since the defeat at Twickenham. If it doesn’t pay off, then there’s another area New Zealand may well target.
Homecoming for Gatland
The Dragons’ Kiwi coach is excited about returning to his homeland, even though Wales must belie a woeful record of 26 consecutive defeats against New Zealand since 1953 on this Tour. Even a solitary victory in their three-Test series would represent a huge step forward.
“It is a great opportunity for us to test ourselves, build on the World Cup and the Six Nations and it’s a challenge we are all looking forward to,” added Gatland.
“We are in a great position in terms of the experience in the squad especially when you look at the age of most of the players and this is going to be another important summer.”
Stiff competition among backs
While there are some issues among the forwards and the continuing absence of Halfpenny, the backs look a strong selection. Gareth Anscombe, often deputising at 15, is in as cover at both full back and fly half.
Liam Williams and Matthew Morgan are the alternatives in the former position, while it is hard to see the 10 jersey and kicking duties being wrestled away from Dan Biggar. Rhys Priestland remains his understudy.
One area where Gatland really has a tough call on selection if the other half back position. Gareth Davies has deputised superbly for the now fit-again Rhys Webb, scoring tries in both the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations from scrum half. Lloyd Williams is also included.
The Dragons will play England on May 29th before jetting out to face the All Blacks on three consecutive Saturdays in June. Wales are 2/1 chances with Coral to win the Six Nations in 2017.
Wales squad for Summer Tour to New Zealand
Backs: Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons), Matthew Morgan (Bristol), Tom James (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
Forwards: Rob Evans (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Paul James (Ospreys) Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), James King (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues).
Visit Coral’s rugby union section for more articles on the Summer Tours for the Home Nations.