The number of high class back-row forwards that come out of Wales is seemingly endless.
They have a conveyor belt of talent and Warren Gatland always has decisions to make about the right blend.
And this weekend – with Australia in town and Wales looking to end a run of 13-straight defeats to the Wallabies – is no different.
It says a lot about the strength in depth that Wales, despite losing Sam Warburton to retirement and Taulupe Faletau, Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi to injury, still have options. TRIED AND TESTED Shingler and Navidi were both superb in this year’s Six Nations for Wales as they ended up second in the table behind Grand Slam winners Ireland.
But in their absence, Gatland has been able to return to the tried and tested duo of flankers, Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric, in their autumn-opening win over Scotland – remarkably the first time the duo have started a Test together in two years.
Tipuric was sublime on the openside, scooping the man of the match award with 20 tackles, a nuisance at the breakdown and his customary clever touches in broken field.
Meanwhile Lydiate – a Test British & Irish Lion – had missed the last two Six Nations Championships but returned in style last weekend.
His hard-hitting chop tackling style blends well alongside a genuine openside like Tipuric or Warburton before him.
And in between that duo is another British & Irish Lion in Ross Moriarty, who was his industrious feisty self at No.8. STICK OR TWIST? Against a team like Australia who field two genuine world-class opensides in their back row in David Pocock and Michael Hooper, Gatland will have to choose wisely.
In recent clashes, their Rugby World Cup clash in 2015 for example, Gatland has opted to fight fire with fire and picked Warburton with Tipuric in his back row.
However, Lydiate and Moriarty’s power game might be better served against an Australia back row with plenty of brain but maybe a touch lacking in out-and-out brawn.
Should Gatland opt to turn to another genuine openside – he has one waiting in the wings in Cardiff Blues skipper Ellis Jenkins. ELLIS EARMARKED FOR GREATNESS Jenkins captained Wales this summer and has loved his time in a Blues back row this season when paired with Olly Robinson in a dual-No.7s strategy.
The temptation to pair Jenkins and Tipuric must be strong for Gatland and let them fight it out with Pocock and Hooper.
Jenkins however, despite captaining his club and country already, is yet to start a game for Wales at Principality Stadium.
So a titanic tussle with Australia might come a bit too soon for Gatland’s liking, but rest assured his all-round talents will be vital come the 2019 Six Nations. AARON’S ALL-ROUND GAME Jenkins was even overlooked for a bench spot against Scotland last weekend, as that went to Aaron Wainwright.
The young Dragon made his international bow this summer against Argentina but was not called off the bench this weekend against Scotland.
Indeed Gatland placed such faith in his back row of Tipuric, Lydiate and Moriarty to see the game out that it was only a yellow card to Elliot Dee and the forced reintroduction of Ken Owens at Lydiate’s expense that saw him change things.
This weekend against the Wallabies, Gatland has plenty to ponder but playing to his own side’s strengths and physicality might serve him better than trying to go like for like with Australia’s two openside policy.
But with James Davies out injured, and Sam Cross and Olly Griffiths not far from the international radar, the options are manifold for Gatland.