With No8 Taulupe Faletau a major doubt for the Autumn internationals and Sam Warburton a doubt for the start of the campaign, we look at three possible back row combinations that Rob Howley might consider using next month.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses but there are a number of options available to the Wales management team.
1.Ross Moriarty, James King and Justin Tipuric
All three of these back row forwards have started the season well with Tipuric in particular having been in outstanding form as one of the notable performers in the PRO12.
6ft 2in, 16st 3lb Moriarty offers a big ball carrying option and a robust defence, while the versatile King, who can also operate at lock and flanker, offers dynamism and pace from the back of the scrum. The Osprey is also a very useful option in the lineout.
Tipuric is a fantastic footballer with delightful ball skills that pops up in the wide channels, acts as a superb link between backs and forwards, and who is also excellent at the breakdown.
King and Tipuric would offer a dynamic, ball playing element while Moriarty, even though he possesses decent hands, would provide the power and grunt.
One of the downsides of this particular combo though could be a lack of physicality and power when coming up against the juggernaut packs of South Africa and Argentina, with only Moriarty offering a gainline threat.
But against the less physical Australians and Japanese who play very open and attacking rugby, they could be a very effective unit.
2. Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric
The experienced Lydiate is nearly back to fitness after being out of action since suffering a shoulder and knee injury against England in May. With his famed ‘chop tackle’ and physicality around the fringes, the 28-year-old offers Wales a hard physical edge.
A very different kind of player to Lydiate, Navidi is a strong and dynamic ball carrier blessed with good offloading skills, highly effective at the breakdown with a non-stop engine.
Having two skilful ball players such as Navidi and Tipuric would certainly be a fillip to Wales as they seek to continue to develop their new attacking game plan.
But a lack of ball carriers in the combo would be a definite negative. Whilst Lydiate is excellent in defence, he doesn’t offer much as a ball carrier. Tipuric whilst offering so much with ball in hand and at the breakdown, is also not a ball carrier.
Josh Navidi would have to thus shoulder the ball carrying responsibilities amongst the three. Against the physicality of the South Africans and Argentinians, this lack of ball carriers could well be exposed.
3. Ellis Jenkins, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric
Jenkins, 23, made his debut against New Zealand in the summer and is a superb operator at the breakdown, good with ball in hand, as well as an excellent defender. Normally an openside, the Cardiff Blues man can also operate very effectively at 6 as well.
The versatile Moriarty is also an effective operator at eight and has played there on a number occasions for Gloucester. His raw power off the back of the scrum always gives his team movement going forward and he would be very handy for the men in red.
Jenkins and Tipuric’s potency at the breakdown – as well as their abilities in the loose – could be very valuable to Rob Howley. Allied with Moriarty’s brute strength with ball in hand, it has the makings of a decent back row.
Like with the second combo, the question mark would lie with the ball carrying. Ball carrying is not one of Jenkins’ strengths, therefore Wales would be light of ball carriers in the back three, with Moriarty having to take a lot of responsibility.
In summary, Howley has plenty to mull over in the coming weeks as he assesses his back row options and keeps a spare eye on Warburton’s recovery from a cheek injury.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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