The Wales back-row dilemma – what are Pivac’s options?

It is an indication of how much disruption Wales dealt with in 2021 that 11 different players started a Test in the back row over the course of 12 matches.

It is an indication of how much disruption Wales dealt with in 2021 that 11 different players started a Test in the back row over the course of 12 matches.

Only one, Aaron Wainwright, started a Test in the Guinness Six Nations, the summer Tests and the Autumn Nations Series, while just four of those players feature in the squad for this year’s Championship.

To say it is an area in flux is an understatement with injuries to stalwarts like Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau leaving Pivac with some big decisions to make.

This is nothing new, the pair of Wales greats have not featured since last spring, and the same is true of Josh Navidi, another who was crucial in the title success a year ago.

Instead, Pivac has a rather less experienced group from which to pick, but if there is one thing Wales has in abundance, it is back-rowers, of every shape and size.

There are six in all in the Wales squad, while locks Seb Davies and Christ Tshiunza are also more than capable of dropping back if required.

But the question is, what is the best combination to cover all bases?


A starting point would appear to be that Ellis Jenkins must start. The Cardiff flanker made his return after three years out of international rugby through injury, and immediately more than held his own against the world champions South Africa in the Autumn Nations Series.

He then captained the side against Fiji and Australia, and while Dan Biggar will take on that role this year, it is hard to imagine Pivac passing up on Jenkins’ leadership and undoubted influence.

A menace at the breakdown, even in a country which produces a seemingly endless conveyor belt of jackals, Jenkins might be the most dangerous.

And in a team with the pace of Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams out wide, turnover ball can be absolutely devastating.

So who to play alongside him? Well as Cardiff and Wales have shown, there is certainly no harm in having more than one jackal in a side, and if there is a challenger to Jenkins’ breakdown crown, it might come from uncapped Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan.

The former Scarlets youngster leads the United Rugby Championship in turnovers won this season, while he is also the top tackler.

This is the first time he has been called up by Pivac, who clearly wanted to see a bit more from the 22-year-old, but the former age-group standout now has an opportunity to stake a claim for a starting role.

He may have to bide his time though, with another 22-year-old ahead of him in the pecking order. Taine Basham played every minute of the Autumn Nations Series, having come off the bench in all three summer Tests.

Capable of playing across the back row, he was used in tandem with Jenkins most recently on the flank, and that might be the best option once again.

While not as big as some back-rowers in the Championship, Basham certainly lives up to his name and more, reminiscent of Scotland’s Hamish Watson with his deceptive power in the carry.


If Pivac sticks with Jenkins and Basham on the flanks, that leaves an interesting decision at No.8 with three likely options. While Seb Davies can play No.8, he is more of a second row, so it would appear to come down to Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty or the uncapped James Ratti.

Wales generally prefer to use their back rows as lineout options, but with neither Jenkins and Basham being regular jumpers, having someone who can fill that role at No.8 would be helpful.

That would favour Wainwright, who burst onto the scene as a rangy blindside and is more than capable of being the third jumper – notably he caught four lineouts against South Africa, more than Basham and Jenkins combined across the whole of the Autumn Nations Series.

At 6ft4, Cardiff’s Ratti is the tallest of the trio, but like Morgan, his lack of experience might count against him.

The other question is whether Pivac feels he needs more carrying – an area that would seem to tip the scales in the favour of Moriarty. The Dragons back-rower had not played since the Autumn Nations Series, but made his comeback this weekend against Benetton and looked to come through unscathed.

It is probably asking a lot for him to be ready to start in Ireland, while Wainwright might provide the best balance alongside Jenkins and Basham.

Even without a trio of British & Irish Lions in Tipuric, Navidi and Faletau, the back row will be a strength for Wales. Pivac just needs to decide which of his many options to employ.