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Wales Online
Wales Online
Steffan Thomas & Mark Orders & Ben James

The Wales players who may have just made Warren Gatland change his mind at last minute

Warren Gatland names his Six Nations squad in 48 hours time and will have the majority of his party clear in his head.

But after another successful weekend for the Welsh regions, the Wales coach has some last minute calls to mull over.

Who has shone in European wins to give Gatland some 11th hour thinking to do?

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These are the Wales hopefuls wondering if they have done enough to earn a Six Nations call-up.

Owen Williams

Is Owen Williams already in Gatland's thinking? Perhaps so. The day after he was confirmed as Wales coach again, Williams signed for the Ospreys on a short-term deal, having been without a club after Worcester's financial collapse.

Since then, he's won each of his four starts, including the double over French champions Montpellier. The most recent of those clashes saw him mix up his game to great effect. He takes the ball to the line well when needed, has a lovely delay on his pass that puts team-mates into gaps and has variety in his kicking game.

One move saw him fire a cross-kick to Giles, before putting in a well-disguised chip over the top a phase later for Michael Collins to keep the attacking set moving forward.

Given he can also play 12 as well as 10 - and Gatland once tried to install him as a ball-playing inside centre when still keen on the idea post-2017 Lions tour - Williams might just have gone from unemployed after Worcester's demise to back in the Welsh squad in a matter of months.

Sam Wainwright

Tomas Francis is nailed to wear the number three jersey against Ireland while Dillon Lewis, despite currently being sidelined, will likely be on the bench, but behind those two it is a lottery.

Tighthead is the position which will be of most concern to Gatland and who takes the third spot in the squad is anyone's guess.

With Leon Brown having been out of action since last September, and Scarlets pair WillGriff John and Harri O'Connor are also injured.

Scarlets prop Wainwright joined the West Walians in December from Saracens where he couldn't get a look in despite having won four caps for Wales.

There have been doubts surrounding the 24-year-old' scrummaging, and he is still a work in progress but he made an impressive cameo off the bench in front of Gatland on Friday night as the Scarlets laboured to an unconvincing victory over the Cheetahs.

At 6ft 2in and 120.91kg Wainwright's size will appeal to Gatland but against the Cheetahs he won a crucial penalty at the breakdown, stifled the Cheetahs' ruck ball, while his line-speed in defence forced a crucial knock-on.

He's a work in progress but given the shallow pool of tighthead's Gatland has to choose from his performance on Friday may just have swayed the call in his favour.

Gareth Davies

By his own admission the 32-year-old has been below par this season. Speaking after getting left out of Wales' autumn squad Davies said: "my form was nowhere near good enough going into the autumn series."

Despite having won 67 caps for Wales Davies has been discounted by most pundits having fallen behind Dane Blacker in the Scarlets pecking order. But with the Scarlets struggling against the Cheetahs he entered the fray after 38 minutes and played an important role in rescuing the west Walians.

He provided a physical presence at the base of rucks, his service was decent, while he was one of the only Scarlets players who succeeded in slicing open a well-drilled Cheetahs defence.

Tomos Williams and Rhys Webb have been playing well, but the number nine shirt is up for grabs and it wouldn't be a total surprise if Gatland went back to a man who has performed well in some big games for him in the past.

Wyn Jones

The Scarlets loosehead has been out of action since October and it's doubtful whether a second-half cameo against the Cheetahs, albeit an impressive one, will be enough to sway Gatland's hand.

While tighthead is a position of weakness there is a lot more strength in depth on the other side of the scrum. Ospreys pair Nicky Smith and Gareth Thomas have been outstanding this season while Rhys Carre has also shown up well for Cardiff.

But, like Davies, Jones is a player Gatland rated highly during his first tenure as Wales boss while the man from Llandovery was also his first choice tighthead on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2021.

He made a big impact against the Cheetahs with his destructive scrummaging and his work at the breakdown. One of Smith, Thomas, or Carre will eventually have to make way for Jones but it's a question of whether he has enough rugby under his belt.

George Nott

The Dragons forward has yet to be really discussed in Welsh selection discussions.

In fairness, the second-row is up against it. Even with Will Rowlands out, there's just the small matter of Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Ben Carter, Seb Davies, Rhys Davies, Christ Tshiunza and Daf Jenkins to get past.

But in the victory over Pau, Nott showed what he was all about. Granted, he was excellent in the loose, leading metres made in the Dragons' front five and making more tackles than any of Dai Flanagan's side.

But it was work at the lineout where he shone. Stealing four of Pau's lineouts, he proved himself to be a canny student of the set-piece.

It would take something major to break into Gatland's thinking, but this was a solid effort by the north Walian.

Ellis Jenkins

All things considered, he was a shade unlucky not to take the man-the-match honours in Cardiff's 42-10 win over Newcastle Falcons.

He's still up against it because he's played so little rugby, starting just two games this season, and the competition is piping hot in the area where he plays.

But he seemed to be everywhere against the Falcons, making impacts all over the place.

Let's deal with the numbers. There were 21 tackles, 11 passes, five carries for 17 metres, two offloads. Jenkins also seemed on hand whenever the ball fell loose, notably near the end when he swooped for possession before releasing a sublime reverse pass that sent Harri Millard clear for a try.

All this in front of Gatland. Maybe it's very late in the selection process.

But the player who was so unlucky to miss the last World Cup has shown he still has much to offer.

Owen Lane

He hasn't featured for Wales in a while but shone in front of Gatland against Newcastle, scoring two tries.

The self-styled Lane train couldn't be stopped for his first score as he finished nicely in the corner, then he ran in an interception touchdown from 65 metres.

A concern will be that he limped off injured near the end, a minute after being named as man of the match.

But he played well.

Keiron Assiratti

This is a long shot and he again picked up a bump, like Lane.

But he also had a decent game for Cardiff, holding his own in the scrums, making some ground with his carries, achieving a turnover and chipping in with some solid tackling.

Gatland will probably want to see more but Wales are not overly blessed with tightheads at this point.

Is WillGriff John fit? When will Dillon Lewis and/or Leon Brown be fit?

All relevant questions.

Assiratti showed up well against Newcastle, though.

Morgan Morris

People have wondered whether he's big enough for Test rugby. Perhaps they should be wondering whether what else he needs to do to be involved.

He made a big impact off the bench for the Ospreys against Montpellier, coming on with 16 minutes to play and pretty much going through the card, with a try, tackles, carries, a turnover, passes — the lot. It's hard to think of a deadlier finisher close to the opposition line.

Very good then.

You'd have thought Gatland would have been impressed.


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