In the 14th article in this series, we analyse the options Warren Gatland has on the wings for the British and Irish Lions 2017 tour of New Zealand.
This instalment focuses on the Welsh wingers available for selection.
Wales: George North, Alex Cuthbert, Hallam Amos, Keelan Giles, Ashton Hewitt
North was a standout player for the Lions on the 2013 tour of Australia, scoring two tries in three test starts and helping the Lions to a first series win since 1997. After a string of concussions, North’s form is not as remarkable as it was in 2013 but he undoubtedly still has the abilities to perform at the highest levels of the game.
With 67 test caps and 145 international test points, North is the most experienced winger available and at 1.93 metres and 105 kilos he is a physical option with a well-rounded skill set and proven try-scoring ability. Depending on his and Wales’ form in the upcoming Six Nations, North is a likely candidate for selection.
An even bigger option on the wing than North, Cuthbert has earned 44 caps for Wales and one for the British and Irish Lions on their 2013 tour, scoring a total of 80 points. He has scored 40 points for Cardiff since the start of the 2015/16 season, whereas Keelan Giles has scored 55 points for Ospreys since the beginning of the 2016/17 season.
While this highlights the fact that Cuthbert has not been on the best form of his life in recent seasons, his lack of tries may come down to the fact that Cardiff are under-performing compared to the Ospreys. Cuthbert’s years of experience under Gatland may help his case for Lions inclusion, but unless his form improves in the next few months he is unlikely to earn selection as there are wingers available who are in better form.
Amos is not as tall as the previously mentioned wingers but he still packs a punch with ball in hand and is developing into a reliable option on the Welsh wing. He enjoyed a strong 2015/16 season for Newport, scoring 50 points from 13 matches and earning five appearances for Wales.
At 22 years of age, Amos is likely to be a part of Welsh international squads for years to come and has already gained the experience of eleven international tests. But unless he starts for Wales in the more difficult matches in this year’s Six Nations, he will probably remain an outsider for Lions selection.
At 1.75 metres, 77 kilos and 18 years of age, Giles has already scored 60 points through 14 matches for the Ospreys and is enjoying a breakthrough season for the Welsh region, earning his first call-up to the Welsh squad for the 2016 autumn internationals. He has been described as a player with an X-factor and is highly regarded within Wales as being one to watch for the future.
However, Giles will not be playing any rugby until the middle of February due to a hamstring injury incurred against Lyon, meaning he is unlikely to feature for Wales in the 2017 Six Nations. This will mean he has very slim chances of making it into Gatland’s initial Lions squad, but the Welsh flier has bags of potential and will probably be competing for a place on the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa.
Dubbed the fastest man in Welsh rugby, Hewitt is another young Welsh winger who has enjoyed a good couple of seasons in the Pro12. At 22 years of age, Hewitt has played 50 matches for Newport and scored 65 points – earning himself a call-up to the Welsh squad for the upcoming Six Nations. At 1.80 metres and 80 kilos, Hewitt is not the most physical winger around but his pace and agility are attributes of his skill set which set him apart from the crowd.
Due to a lack of international exposure he is probably an outsider for Lions selection but a few appearances and tries for Wales in the upcoming Six Nations wouldn’t hurt his chances of inclusion.
Graham Manditsch, Pundit Arena
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