Wales Rugby World Cup squad: Talking points as Gatland shows his hand

Rookie co-captains, culled stars and multiple injury concerns leave Wales fans with plenty to consider after Warren Gatland named his 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.

Rookie co-captains, culled stars and multiple injury concerns leave Wales fans with plenty to consider after Warren Gatland named his 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.

Flanker Jac Morgan and hooker Dewi Lake shared the captaincy during the Summer Nations Series and will do so again next month, despite their inexperience on the world stage.

Neither of the Ospreys pair has played at a World Cup previously and they hold just 20 caps between them, but their new status underlines the fresh feel to Gatland’s squad.

Wales have reached the quarter-final stage in each of their three World Cups under the Kiwi coach – here we take a look at the talking points which are sure to impact their progress this time.

Lesser-known leaders

Sam Warburton emerged as a surprise candidate to lead Wales ahead of the 2011 World Cup squad, and the history seems to have repeated itself 12 years on.

An injury to Matthew Rees paved the way for Warburton to become the youngest ever World Cup captain at the age of just 22 and Morgan (23) and Lake (24) will not be far behind him in that regard.

With experienced former captains Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Ken Owens all having retired from international rugby or sidelined through injury, the opportunity arose for a new leader, or leaders, to emerge.

Morgan captained Wales in two of the three warm-up games, the opening win against England in Cardiff and final loss to South Africa, while Lake led the side in the reverse to England at Twickenham.

There were more experienced options in the form of Dan Lydiate and Adam Beard, who have captaincy experience, and most-capped back George North, but Gatland has instead opted for two of his youngest stars.

“They are two young players who will complement each other well,” said Gatland.

“They are good mates and have a good relationship. It’s a good opportunity. It is something that I have never done before. They have got a big future ahead of them.”

Scrum-half surprise

For the first time since 2003, Wales have named just two specialist scrum-halves in their World Cup squad.

On that occasion, a wing by the name of Shane Williams was included as a third option for the tournament down under, behind Dwayne Peel and Gareth Cooper.

Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams will compete for the No.9 jersey this time round, with Kieran Hardy seemingly failing his final audition after starting against South Africa at the weekend.

The decision to take just two scrum-halves has afforded Gatland an extra back elsewhere amongst the 14 players picked.

Leigh Halfpenny is among those names, and he is set to become just the fifth Wales player to appear in four World Cups after Gareth Thomas, Stephen Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Alun Wyn Jones.

Explaining his decision, Gatland revealed it was ultimately a toss-up between a third scrum-half and an extra back three option.

“If we do pick up injuries, it is not too far of a distance to go,” said Gatland.

“We’d had a discussion with the players right from the start that the tipping point could be whether we take two nines or three 10s. There was no certainty about anyone being selected in the squad.

“Probably all along we were thinking of three nines, and we were just looking at some depth in our back three and covering players that are getting on a little bit and whether they can back up in all the games.

“We just wanted a bit more cover in that back three.”

Who makes the start line?

The squad may have been finalised, but Gatland will still be sweating over the fitness of some of those selected.

He currently has up to seven players currently nursing injuries ahead of their opener against Fiji in Bordeaux on 10 September.

Despite stating previously that hopefuls must play this month to make the plane, he has reneged on that policy to include Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau, who have been absent throughout the Summer Nations Series.

Skipper Lake and fellow hooker Ryan Elias picked up injuries during the double-header with England, as did second row Dafydd Jenkins, who is the youngest player in the touring party.

Jenkins’ injury is of particular concern with just two other specialist locks in the form of Will Rowlands and Adam Beard, while hybrid forward Christ Tshiunza offers versatility across the second and back row.

Taine Plumtree was a left-field inclusion in Wales’ training squad but after impressing in camps in Turkey and Switzerland, he was very much in contention prior to a shoulder injury suffered against England at Twickenham.

“Taine is unlucky,” said Gatland.

“Over the next couple of weeks you are probably looking at the amount of players that can take part in training and some live sessions. He’s unfortunately drawn the short straw in terms of that.

“I had a chat with him this morning and said to him to be ready in case there’s potentially an opportunity.

“It was always going to be a tight call whether we were going to take him.”

Axe wielded

When Gatland named an extended 48-man squad, judgement day was always going to be disappointing for some.

Alex Cuthbert is arguably the most high-profile absentee, having been a favourite of Gatland’s for much of his first reign.

Elsewhere, fly-half Owen Williams started two Guinness Six Nations matches this year but has seemingly fallen to fourth in the pecking order, while back Cai Evans has been overlooked despite making his international debut on the weekend.

Of all Gatland’s World Cup squads, this is the cast with the most average caps. But with no Alun Wyn Jones and no Justin Tipuric, it remains to be seen whether Wales’ next generation can maintain their strong recent tournament form.

Wales squad for the Rugby World Cup

Forwards (19)

Taine Basham, Adam Beard, Elliot Dee, Corey Domachowski, Ryan Elias, Taulupe Faletau, Tomas Francis, Dafydd Jenkins, Dewi Lake (co-captain), Dillon Lewis, Dan Lydiate, Jac Morgan (co-captain), Tommy Reffell, Will Rowlands, Nicky Smith, Gareth Thomas, Henry Thomas, Christ Tshiunza, Aaron Wainwright

Backs (14)

Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Biggar, Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies, Rio Dyer, Mason Grady, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Johnny Williams, Liam Williams, Tomos Williams