Sale Sharks say they are ‘astounded’ by WillGriff John’s exclusion from the Wales squad following his selection before the Six Nations went into lockdown.
John had been named as the starting tighthead against Scotland only for the match, and his Test debut, to be called off 24 hours later.
Now he finds himself so far down the national rankings that four other tightheads have been picked ahead of him for the six-Test autumn schedule.
“I was astounded when I saw that they hadn’t picked him,” Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby, told The Rugby Paper. “While Griff has been a massive work in progress over the last two years, he has also been a dominant tighthead.
“In two-and-a-half years he has missed only four games for us out of one hundred due to injury. He’s a huge man, a good scrummager and a good defender. I think it’s a poor decision. I’m disappointed.”
A gigantic figure at 6ft 3in and almost 20 stone, John’s choice for the last round of the Six Nations in March followed the mangling of the Welsh scrum at Twickenham the previous week.
In a matter of months he has gone from being No.1 to nowhere.
Samson Lee, Dillon Lewis, Tomas Francis and Leon Brown have all been chosen ahead of him. Lee has been out of favour since missing the cut for the World Cup 14 months ago while Francis sat out last season’s Six Nations after damaging a shoulder against South Africa in Yokohama.
Diamond says Wales have given him no explanation for John’s failure to find a place among an outsized list of 38 players.
“We have had no contact from Wales,” says Diamond. “I spoke to Griff on Wednesday, just to make sure he was ok and allay any fears he may have had over missing out.
“He’s disappointed but he’s a worldly-wise lad. He’s just got to keep working hard. You’d think that in building a squad for the World Cup they’d like to have a look at him.
“Usually with our English, Scottish and South African players, their management teams are in regular contact with some suggestions of things to work on. I’ve not heard from the Welsh camp which is very strange.”
John, born in Plymouth but raised at Ferndale in the Rhondda Valley, finally thought he had arrived last March after a roundabout journey from Pontypridd to Manchester, via Cardiff Blues, Northland in New Zealand and Doncaster.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said on the day Wales named him against Scotland, amid doubts whether the match would survive the pandemic. “I’m pleased to finally be able to play on the big stage. To wait this long for a cap and all of a sudden to see it taken away would be very unfortunate.”
Doubts about John’s fitness for Test rugby were the reason why Warren Gatland failed to pick him throughout his twelve years as head coach. John himself touched on the subject in The Rugby Paper a few weeks ago.
Referring to the postponement of the Scotland game, he said: “Even though I was disappointed, maybe there was a blessing to the fact that I didn’t play. I did find it very hard in the first week fitness-wise.
“The feedback was that I needed to be fitter so if I do get picked for the next training squad, I’ll be able to start in a better place.”
Sale played 29 Premiership and Champions’ Cup matches during the longest of all seasons. Despite appearing in all but three – 12 starts and 14 appearances off the bench – Wales seem less than convinced.