The emotion etched across Liam Williams as he left the field injured on his Cardiff debut said it all — another untimely layoff, missing games for both club and country.
Williams could be forgiven for feeling choked.
A difficult second spell with the Scarlets was spoiled by injuries that appeared to arrive in waves.
Williams would have hoped a change of team might have brought a change in fortune, but life is rarely that straightforward. Twenty minutes into his first game in Cardiff colours, he left the field with his left arm in a sling after landing awkwardly in a tackle and damaging a collarbone.
On Tuesday came the news he would have been dreading, that he could be up for up to 16 weeks.
The ill-tidings from the Arms Park mean he’ll be absent for all Wales’ autumn internationals and could struggle to play again for Cardiff over the rest of the year.
Somewhere along the way, he’s upset the rugby gods.
That said, injuries are an occupational hazard for rugby players and it was good to see Williams’ spirits evidently restored sufficiently for him to tweet after a quickly arranged operation: “Surgery went well…on the road to recovery!”
Wayne Pivac’s thoughts haven’t been aired publicly.
But he’ll now be looking for someone to wear the No. 15 jersey for Wales’ November programme. It’ll be a significant void to fill, with Williams rock solid for his country in the three Tests in South Africa in the summer. Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi had said before the series started: “A guy like Liam Williams is a hard guy. He’s a nice guy off the field but he’s no nonsense.” A player who wouldn’t be scared of them in the slightest, then. Nothing that happened over the next three weekends contradicted that view.
There are options out there for Pivac, though, potentially as many as seven of them ahead of facing New Zealand on November 5.
These are the players he could potentially turn to...
Who would you play at full-back this autumn? Have your say in the comments below.
We’ll start at the Scarlets, where Leigh Halfpenny is set to make his playing return in the coming weeks after almost 15 months out with a career-threatening knee injury. He has even more experience than Williams, having started playing Test rugby as a teenager in 2008. Nothing that would happen on the pitch in the autumn Tests would shock him. He would be reliable, a calming influence and a wonderful goalkicking option alongside Dan Biggar.
But would he be ready for Test rugby?
Warren Gatland may have viewed Halfpenny as the most professional player he coached during his time in charge of the Wales team, but it can take a while for a player to properly move up the gears after returning from injury. Ask Gareth Anscombe, who needed months to return to his best with the Ospreys and Wales. Wayne Pivac's side play the All Blacks seven weeks on Saturday. Time isn’t on Halfpenny’s side.
Showed in the second half against the Ospreys last weekend, after switching from wing, that he possesses the potential to develop into a useful full-back. Like Liam Williams, with whom he has been compared, Rogers is brave and prepared to put himself in harm’s way; he is also quick and skilful and doesn’t flinch from contesting ball at the breakdown.
But he has begun just five games of senior competitive rugby in the URC and the Rainbow Cup at full-back for the Scarlets. The rest of his appearances in the run-on side have seen him start on the right wing.
Wales will be cautious, too, after picking him against Canada and Argentina last year when the evidence of those games suggested he wasn’t quite ready for Test rugby.
One for the future, perhaps.
One for the present.
The third Scarlet on this list is quick, lethal in attack and good under the high ball. He also won’t have concerns about facing southern hemisphere sides after years of playing Super Rugby. If the offensive side of his game is stronger than his defensive wing, he is still an attractive option for Pivac, who coached him at the Scarlets.
There might be a concern McNicholl does pick up a bump or two too many.
But, at this point, he looks a fair bet to take over from Williams this autumn. In the past, Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel has described him as ' gold dust ' for the region, while McNicholl himself says he prefers playing at No. 15.
Maybe he's the favourite.
He’s a talent and he has the nerveless temperament needed for Test rugby.
And he isn’t short of experience at No. 15, having played there regularly for Cardiff before switching to the Ospreys. He also started a handful of games at the back for Wales at the outset of his Test career.
A slight drawback — well, more than a slight drawback, actually — might be that all his rugby as a starter for the Ospreys has been played at fly-half.
But Anscombe is still talented and versatile enough to do a job at full-back, and a decent one as well.
Definitely a decent option, then.
With an eye to next year’s World Cup, where adaptable players are worth their weight in gold, Wayne Pivac has asked Cardiff to use Adams in the full-back role at times this season.
Cardiff director of rugby Dai Young revealed this week: “Josh Adams is someone who Wayne would like to see playing for us at 15 on occasions because that's something that may happen in the World Cup. We think we have a number of options but Liam has left big shoes to fill.
"Josh has played a little bit at full-back and he certainly has all the attributes to play there. He has a good kicking game, he's good under the high ball, a very good defender and if people kick poorly to him then he certainly has the attacking ability to cause teams problems.
"It's something I talked to Wayne about before Liam's injury. Wayne's obviously gearing up now for the World Cup and in those tournaments people get injured. There are a number of players across the four regions where, if we can help in any way by giving players experience in other positions that they may be called on for in the World Cup, then we're all trying to do that."
Adams did well when he played full-back for Worcester Warriors before settling on the wing. He hit the line powerfully, showed up well under the high ball and used his pace to cause opposition defences problems.
Wales used him in the centre against Ireland last season without the same success.
But it might prove a different story at full-back.
In an ideal world the 27-year-old would have a run of games there for Cardiff before stepping up to face the likes of New Zealand, Argentina and Australia with a No. 15 on his back.
Let’s see how Cardiff’s selections go in the coming weeks.
Another player Pivac brought over to Wales to play for the Scarlets.
He has played a lot of his rugby in his second stint in this part of the world in the centre for the Ospreys, but of late he has been operating at the back.
He’d probably need a blinding performance or three in that position for Wales to consider him as a potential replacement for Williams.
It’s not wildly out of the question, but others seem ahead of him right now.
Versatility isn’t a problem for Lloyd, with the youngster having played at fly-half, full-back, wing, centre and even scrum half during his time with Bristol Bears. If they asked nicely, he might even drive the bus for them.
He has rare attacking gifts and won both of his caps for Wales at No. 15 back in 2020.
But at the time he didn’t look ready for Test rugby with his defence less than watertight.
This term, he’s hoping to play at No. 12 for Bristol.
But Wales have seemed in no hurry to give him another chance in any capacity.
He’s an outsider, then.
Albeit an exceptionally talented outsider.