Seven players left out by Wales this autumn who'll be banging on Wayne Pivac's door for the Six Nations

By Mark Orders

Wayne Pivac made clear before the autumn Tests that he wanted to start narrowing down his 2023 World Cup candidates to around 40 to 45 players from which the squad for the global tournament in France would be chosen.

Anyone wanting to feature in the global tournament, then, had better start getting a move on when it comes to impressing the New Zealander.

Some already have ground to make up.

They are the players who were overlooked for the recent batch of internationals.

Their challenge is to win back the coach's favour.

It's not impossible. This time last year Adam Beard was in the process of doing exactly that, George North had just reclaimed his Wales place and Elliot Dee was originally axed for the autumn 2020 games. All changed Pivac's mind.

But it's not a given.

Here are the players who were passed over by Wales for the latest round of games, who could interest the selectors in the coming weeks.

Nicky Smith

Godzilla hasn’t suddenly fallen among us, but Smith’s performance against Munster, after being overlooked for the Wales squad, was as good as anything produced by a Welsh prop this season, making a nonsense of his omission at national level.

His opponent that day, John Ryan, conceded four penalties as part of a visiting front row which transgressed eight times on the day.

Smith was irresistible in all he did.

His challenge is to make that level of form his default setting.

Verdict : He needs to maintain his standards, but with Wales’ scrum dreadful during the autumn, it would be a surprise if Smith didn’t win a call.

Owen Watkin

He’s out of favour with Wales, who seem to doubt that he has an attacking game.

But he is more skilful than he is given credit for and he has a big defensive game.

He came up with an unforgettable Six Nations moment when he tracked back to haul down Duhan van der Merwe when Wales’ hopes of a Grand Slam seemed on the point of being ruined against Scotland.

His reward was to be dropped for the next game and he hasn’t been seen at Test level since.

From here, his omission seems questionable.

But Pivac picks the side.

Verdict : Don’t rule him out, but he may need an injury or two to get back into favour.

Rob Evans

In 2019 he was winning a Grand Slam with Wales.

Since that rainy spring day in Cardiff, he has started just one game for his country.

He has had a number of injuries, but he’s still only 29 and will want to launch his trilby into the ring for the Six Nations.

Verdict: Wales are sure to be considering their prop options and Evans has a lot of experience. To stand a chance, he has to put together a run of strong performances, though.

Jonah Holmes

He finished last season as the wing with the Midas touch, scoring tries for fun. Two well-taken scores against Connacht in October seemed to increase the likelihood of being named in the Wales squad.

But nothing is ever certain in these matters.

When Pivac’s panel was named, the Dragon wasn’t in it.

Not ideal, Holmes.

One supporter on social media thundered “scandalous!” while another called the 29-year-old’s omission baffling and a third described it as a shambles.

Holmes’ challenge is to engage the form he showed towards the end of last season.

Verdict : Let’s assume Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Johnny McNicholl and Louis Rees-Zammit are inked in for the Six Nations. There is set to be one back-three place open. Holmes will be there or thereabouts.

Samson Lee

It seems a long time since a 21-year-old Lee came up with the scrum of his life to send the Springboks into reverse gear in Cardiff in 2014.

The then youthful west Walian munched his opponent Trevor Nyakane as he powered forward, securing the penalty which Leigh Halfpenny kicked to put Wales into a six-point lead they were not to lose.

It was arguably the key moment of the game as the hosts posted only the second win in their history against South Africa.

Samson Lee (Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency)

All seemed set for the Scarlet to enjoy a long and successful Test career.

Wales seemed to have found their long-term successor to Adam Jones, with the next decade appearing to be sorted at No. 3.

But injuries haven’t been far away since.

A run of good fortune is what the squat and powerful Lee needs.

Verdict: Fit and firing he is a force; his challenge is to steer clear of the casualty room.

Jac Morgan

He had an excellent first batch of games in the United Rugby Championship.

Indeed, if they were ahead of the game, Tata Steel might have been tempted to sponsor his defensive game, so many important tackles did he come up with. There were key turnovers, too.

Also, Morgan was consistent — there or thereabouts for the man-of-the-match award in close on every game he played.

Wales still left him out, with Wayne Pivac explaining that the Brynamman product and his old Wales U20s mate Tommy Reffell didn’t suit the national team’s style.

Well, OK.

Since then, Taine Basham has proven a big success at Test level with his all-court game.

And Justin Tipuric will be back for the Six Nations.

But that Morgan is a talent is not in doubt.

Verdict: It’s going to be tough, but Morgan has shown he can play across the back row. Maybe for him it will be a game of patience. But he’s only 21, with time on his side.

Tom Rogers

"Head and shoulders the best player on the pitch." That’s how one observer described Rogers after his performance for the Scarlets Development side against Dragons A recently.

He had a shaky summer with Wales, appearing not quite ready for that level of rugby, but he is quick, brave and can play at full-back or wing.

At some stage he is going to return to the national set-up.

Verdict: He will need to provide evidence he has improved the parts of his game which weren’t up to scratch in July, but he is a youngster with a lot to offer. Maybe he could push for the fifth back-three spot in the Wales set-up, but, like in so many of the other cases, he’ll need to convince Pivac the time is right.

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And others...

Sam Davies is another one who will want to show the call to leave him out for the autumn was wrong, while Jarrod Evans offers Wales an attacking option.

Dragons warrior Ollie Griffiths will want to join his regional back-row colleagues Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty in the set-up, while three who were called into Pivac’s squad without playing a single minute are Scott Williams, Rhys Davies and Shane Lewis-Hughes.

Along with Ioan Lloyd and Aneurin Owen, they will all want to add to Pivac’s options for the Six Nations.


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