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Mark Orders

Warren Gatland's Wales watch as old heads shine, Jenkins returns and next-generation talents stand out

Warren Gatland has already noted time is short ahead of the Six Nations, so Wales' returning head coach would have been keen to note which Welsh players showed up well in European competition at the weekend.

A stunning 21-10 away win for the Ospreys over French champions Montpellier in the top-tier Champions Cup means big displays for them will likely carry extra weight in the New Zealander’s eyes. But there were also convincing victories for Cardiff and the Scarlets in the EPCR Challenge Cup.

Read more: The Wales scrum-half options for the Six Nations assessed as in-form Rhys Webb lobs in a grenade

Given that Wales-based players are operating in an environment plagued by uncertainty amid belt-tightening measures which are set to be brought it, it was an effort that deserves much praise.

Here are some of the players who might have caught Gatland’s eye:

Morgan Morris (Ospreys)

Good in all the key areas for the Ospreys against French champions Montpellier — 11 carries for 35 metres, a try via a quality finish, two turnovers, 11 tackles, eight passes. Some ask whether he is big enough for Test rugby, but man-of-the-match Morris fronted up against Montpellier and shirked nothing, as is his way. “He never fails to perform,” said Toby Booth later.

Morgan Morris of Ospreys spins the ball out (Huw Evans Agency)

Bradley Roberts (Dragons)

It wasn’t the Dragons’ finest night as a team against Pau, but their No. 2 could be proud of his effort. Everything good about the Welsh side seemed to involve him. Roberts hit his targets at the lineout, worked incessantly around the field, and scored two tries. There were not many better individual shows in the Challenge Cup at the weekend.

Rhys Carre (Cardiff)

The big man is building up a head of steam after his exclusion for the autumn Tests. Kingston Park is still shaking after one hit from the loosehead, never mind the poor Newcastle player on the wrong end of it. There were also a couple of powerful carries, a try and imposing scrummaging, a week after Cardiff did a demolition job on Brive’s set-piece. The hosts were dismal, but that’s their problem for making multiple changes. Carre was to the fore.

Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs)

One snippet near the end of Exeter Chiefs’ 44-14 win over the Bulls in Devon was telling. The hosts were 30 points up but defending their line. Tshiunza disrupted an opposition lineout and seconds later helped stop a thrust before driving through for a counter-ruck. Athletic and physical, the 6ft 6in back-five forward is one Gatland will be watching.

Rhys Priestland (Cardiff)

Barely missed a beat. When he did, he was still too good for much-changed Newcastle.

Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets)

Part of a Scarlets back-three that chased relentlessly against the Cheetahs and also posed a threat with ball in hand. At one point on Saturday, McNicholl, Steff Evans and Ryan Conbeer all descended on a South African player after McNicholl had kicked ahead — "suffocating", someone called it. McNicholl also sparked a number of counter-attacks.

Rhys Davies (Ospreys)

Handed a European chance in the absence of Alun Wyn Jones and how he took it, bringing real physicality to the table. Davies achieved two turnovers, one via a determined counter-ruck, hit hard in defence and grafted tirelessly. Montpellier had a hard-nosed pack but the uncapped Ospreys lock didn’t take a backward step.

Adam Beard (Ospreys)

Came up with his best display of the season as the Ospreys won in southern France. As with Rhys Davies, he managed a couple of possession steals, while if he were a New Zealander they’d be stopping news bulletins to show his pass for Morgan Morris’ try. Beard was pumped up and also performed impressively in the lineout.

Dane Blacker (Scarlets)

Helped the Scarlets build a big lead in the 40 minutes he was on the field, ensuring they played at a tempo the Cheetahs couldn’t live with. There’s serious competition for the No. 9 shirt out west and it will be fascinating to see who Dwayne Peel picks for the derby against the Ospreys on Boxing Day.

Sam Costelow (Scarlets)

Seems to be coming of age for the Scarlets, scoring a try against the Cheetahs as he built on the previous weekend’s man-of-the-match show. Costelow is quick and skilful but he is also gutsy, with the fly-half at one point ripping the ball from a big opposition forward near the Scarlets line (you can read here about the little Welsh club that turns boys, including Costelow, into Wales internationals).

Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff)

Welcome back to a player Warren Gatland rated highly towards the end of his first stint with Wales. Playing his first competitive game of the season, the Cardiff back-rower took the man-of-the-match gong against Newcastle, with Jenkins having a hand in two of Cardiff’s tries, showing he’s lost none of his class and footballing intelligence.

Rhys Webb (Ospreys)

Hard to know what more he could have done to attract Warren Gatland’s attention. Won his head-to-head with the ultra-dangerous South Africa Test man Cobus Reinach, and was across everything from start to finish, with his leadership outstanding.

Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs)

He’s only recently turned 20, yet the lock has already been capped by Wales and is starting regularly for Exeter. As with Tshiunza, there was a moment which showed he is made of the right stuff, with Jenkins chasing a seemingly lost cause in the final quarter and pressuring two Bulls players who were chasing a kick ahead with a try appearing certain, the pair managed to mess the chance up. Alongside the 72-cap Jonny Gray, Jenkins didn’t look out of place.

Josh Adams (Cardiff)

A cut above against opponents who mixed things up too much in selection to be competitive. There were two tries from the Cardiff man with some of his running ability in space on a different level. He even seamlessly switched to full-back and excelled there. Top class, then.

Owen Williams (Ospreys)

Nothing flash, but barely put a foot wrong with some of his line-kicking top quality. He brought structure to the Ospreys’ game. As first starts go, his maiden 80 minutes for the south-west Wales region was impressive.

Jac Morgan (Ospreys)

Came off the bench and within minutes introduced himself to a big Montpellier ball-carrier by knocking him backwards in the tackle. Morgan had been uncharacteristically quiet against Leicester, but in 23 minutes on Saturday night he made a major impact.

Dan Biggar (Toulon)

One scribe tipped Biggar to fill a Jonny Wilkinson role for Toulon after their impressive win over Bath — a quality player in his own right, but also one who brings the best out of others. The fly-half ran the show with typical authority, organising and controlling matters, a leader to his core. Had he been at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Seventh Cavalry might have made a better fist of matters.

Gareth Thomas (Ospreys)

Scrummaged well, chopped in defence, relished the physical exchanges. A player bang in form.

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)

Did what it said on the tin. Enough said.

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