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Williams column: Top signing for Ospreys by Rhys Webb must earn Wales spot

RHYS Webb is a fantastic player and it is brilliant news he will be available for the Six Nations – but there is absolutely no guarantee he will make an immediate return to Test rugby next month.

The Ospreys need all the help they can get right now so it was a timely boost for them when they announced Rhys’ return for next season. That news was topped by the Welsh Rugby Union revealing Rhys will be available to play for Wales as soon as a few weeks’ time.

I must admit I was very surprised by that! I didn’t see it coming at all. It adds to the scrum-half competition which is a position Wales are strong in and now I’m sure there will be a battle royal for the starting spot against Italy.

I did feel a bit sorry for Rhys when his move to Toulon was confirmed. It felt like he had been banished from the game in Wales. The WRU’s move to the 60-cap rule was one I can understand as it is vitally important to try and keep the best Wales talent in our country. But the timing wasn’t ideal.

I guess we’ll never know if Rhys and his representatives were aware the ruling was coming in before he’d signed for Toulon or not. That is water under the bridge now, but my view at the time was Rhys’ departure from Wales just didn’t feel quite right.

That is why I’m sure he will be hungry and motivated to play his best rugby back in Wales.

Most people wouldn’t have expected to see him back in a red shirt this season, however he is now available for the Six Nations and summer tour to New Zealand after the WRU’s Professional Rugby Board allowed him a special six-month dispensation. I’m pleased they have done so and it makes the selection at scrum-half all the more interesting.

For so long we’ve talked about a lack of strength in depth in Welsh rugby, but if you look at scrum-half now there is a lot of talent. Gareth Davies had a fine World Cup, as did Tomos Williams, who was often on the bench but provided great impetus as a replacement.

Those are the best two nines right now, but Aled Davies and Rhodri Williams are snapping away at their heels. Williams has had a promising first half of this season at the Dragons and being named captain by Dean Ryan is an indication of how well he is performing.

Further down the development plan Wales will also be looking at Harri Morgan and Reuben Morgan-Williams while I also like Kieran Hardy at the Scarlets.

It all means that as good a player as he is, Rhys can’t expect to walk straight back into the Wales set-up. That wouldn’t be fair on guys like Gareth and Tomos who have been slogging their guts out in the Wales and regional set-up to get to the position they have now.

Rhys will have to be at the top of his game to displace them, but there is no doubt that is what he will try to do and competition is no bad thing. It drives players on to new levels and I’m sure Wayne Pivac will be delighted Rhys is coming back. We all know how classy he is on the Test stage.

Wayne will have been involved in the PRB’s discussions over Rhys. It is very unlikely the WRU would allow Rhys to be available for Wayne not to pick him. That would be a folly and it’s why I can’t see it happening. Rhys will certainly enhance the Wales squad and I think he’ll be picked alongside Gareth and Tomos with Aled missing out. That’s tough on Aled who will play with Rhys at the Ospreys, too.

Rhys Webb
Return: Rhys Webb’s form for Wales earned him a place on the 2017 Lions tour. Getty Images

But at the end of the day Rhys is a British & Irish Lion and if you pick your best Welsh squad, the bottom line is he is in it. Will Rhys have any regrets over his move to Toulon? He is a very confident person and I know from speaking to him he has really enjoyed a new chapter in France.

It’s been a totally different experience and he has played some good rugby out there despite having a couple of injuries. The big thing is his family. If they had wanted to stay in France then things might have worked out differently. That hasn’t happened, but he will still have learned a lot from French rugby and it will make him a better player and more rounded person in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how he goes if and when he is named in the Wales squad for the Six Nations. I’m sure the banter will be flying around the camp on the first day! Rhys is a funny guy and will embrace the stick he’ll get. The first thing I’d say if I was still a player would be “Where have you been hiding?!”

There will be plenty of laughs, but also a lot of seriousness underneath all that. Gareth won’t want to lose the red No.9 shirt. Tomos still wants it too and Aled won’t want to see his regional or international game time lessened by Rhys’ arrival.

It will amount to healthy rivalry and that can only be good for Wales in the long run.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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