Sam Warburton’s injury is a huge blow for Wales. I thought he was outstanding on the Lions tour and his displays in the second and third Tests were the perfect way to respond to the critics who questioned him.
His absence for the autumn clashes leaves a gaping hole for Warren Gatland, but as always, one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. It’s an interesting conundrum for Warren to consider on the openside and I hope Thomas Young and Ollie Griffiths can now be given a chance later this year. I think both are special young talents who can be the future of the Wales team.
For so long now we’ve talked about the riches Wales have in competition for the red No.7 shirt. That remains the case, but with Sam now out until 2018 it means he, Ellis Jenkins and James Davies are all currently on the sidelines. So too is Nic Cudd at the Dragons who I think is an underrated performer. Of course Justin Tipuric has started the season from the off with the Ospreys and I’m sure he’ll start for Wales against Australia at Principality Stadium on November 11.
Providing there are no further injuries, my back row to face the Wallabies would be Dan Lydiate at blindside, Justin on the other flank and Taulupe Faletau at No 8.
Of course Dan has to come back from his long-term injury and prove with the Ospreys he can get back to his best. I think though that he’s more than capable of doing that and of course if Dan struggles with his fitness, Ross Moriarty is a more than decent option.
Behind those guys though there are a few back row questions marks. Who are going to be the back-up options? For me, Young and Griffiths should certainly be involved.
The two players won their first Wales caps in the summer and I think they’re hugely talented. I honestly think Young is ready for Test rugby already. You could see from his performances for Wasps in Europe last season that he is more than capable of starring at international level. Thomas was involved in last year’s Six Nations and if I’m honest, I was slightly surprised he wasn’t involved more in that tournament. I hope that changes this term and I think he’s the sort of player Warren will like. He’ll certainly be keeping up the pressure on Justin that’s for sure. The other one is Ollie and for him this autumn will be slightly different. After facing Samoa in the summer, this season is a chance for him to keep up his learning and experience playing with the best around. I think he’d have picked up so much from Sam had he been around, so that’s another reason why he’s a big loss. That said, I think Ollie will only improve in this campaign. I’ve noticed how much he’s grown physically in the last six months or so and if he played for say the Scarlets, I think we’d be talking about him a lot more.
For me he’s a Wales back rower of the future.
One more thing on Sam. I know Alun Wyn Jones captained Wales last season, but I was fully expecting Sam to come back as leader this term. Now I expect Alun to continue in the role for the autumn and of course that’s no bad thing from a Welsh perspective, but on the field the absence of a fit and firing Sam is a real shame.
In one way though, if it allows either Ollie or Thomas to get a chance on the field – potentially against Georgia – it could work in Wales’ favour long term.
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