With the news that Taulupe Faletau is a major doubt for the upcoming autumn internationals, after suffering a knee injury, we take a look at three contenders to replace him.
1. Josh Navidi
The versatile Cardiff Blues backrower, and the first player of Iranian heritage to play for Wales, has made an excellent start to the season, playing a key role in the Blues’ highly impressive start to the new campaign.
In a Man of the Match display against Munster, which saw the Blues earn a famous 24-23 victory in Cork, Navidi made eleven carries and twelve tackles.
Able to play across the whole of the back row with a preference for 8 and 7, the 25-year-old has been one of the most consistent forwards in Welsh rugby over the last couple of years.
Athletic, excellent at the breakdown, and a tireless carrier with good hands and an outstanding engine, he earned his solitary cap against Japan in 2013. Undoubtedly he has been very unfortunate not to have picked up more caps.
Wales’ riches in the back row à la Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Ross Moriarty and club-mate Ellis Jenkins have severely hampered the Blues academy product’s progress at international level.
But Faletau’s injury should open the door to at least a place in the squad for the 6ft 2in, 15st former Wales U-20 skipper.
His dynamic, ball in hand style fits in perfectly with Wales’ attempts to play a more expansive style of play, and if selected Bridgend-born Navidi will do a good job.
2. Ross Moriarty
Son of former Wales and Swansea forward Paul, the 22-year-old Gloucester backrower is a destructive ball carrier, who has made an impressive start to his international career.
Physical, aggressive and uncompromising with decent ball skills to boot, the 16st 5lb powerhouse has added a steely edge to the Welsh back row.
Voted Young Player of the Season by Gloucester supporters last season, the Swansea-raised star has made 64 appearances for the club since his debut in 2012.
Since making his international debut against Ireland in a World Cup warm-up last August, the Merseyside-born tyro has earned nine caps.
A member of the Wales squad that reached the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup, he made two appearances during the tournament as well as making one appearance during this year’s Six Nations and was outstanding at 6 for Wales in their 3-0 series loss to the All Blacks in June.
A U-20 World Cup winner with England in 2013, Moriarty is adept at both blindside and at 8. Even though he has played more at 6 for the Cherry and Whites, he has also packed down at 8 at different times for them, impressing each time with his charges from the back of the scrum.
With his ability to get over the gainline and his raw physicality especially against the likes of Argentina and South Africa, he would be an interesting alternative to Faletau.
The former Morriston Comprehensive and Hartpury College student has a big future in the red jersey.
3. James King
The Australian-born No. 8 is an athletic, skilful footballer, who is excellent in the lineout and can also slot in on both flanks and at lock.
Since making his Ospreys bow back in 2009, the former Wales U-18 and U-20 star has made 113 appearances for the region, who he joined as an 18-year-old.
He made his Welsh debut against Japan in 2013 and has earned eight caps in total, including a start against Uruguay in last year’s World Cup.
Since converting to No. 8 last year, King has impressed with his dynamism off the back of the scrum, his lovely off-loading skills and tireless work-rate.
Highly-rated by Warren Gatland, he signed a national dual contract with the Ospreys and Wales last November.
Like Navidi, King would offer a dynamic, ball-playing presence at 8 but also a very useful lineout option. Perfectly suited to Wales’ new style, the 26-year-old would perhaps offer the most like-for-like fit in an attempt to replace Faletau.
A part of Gatland’s 2016 Six Nations team, his inclusion in recent squads as an 8 probably gives him the edge over Navidi and Moriarty in terms of selection.
With three quality options at his disposal, stand in coach Rob Howley has a tough choice to make.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena