With Wales set to kick-off their autumn campaign on Saturday against Australia, we look at Rob Howley’s likely starting XV for the clash.
15. Liam Williams (if fit)
Wales’ best player during the summer series against New Zealand, the 25-year-old has continued his fine form into the new season.
Left the field early with an ankle injury during the Scarlets’ European Champions Cup defeat to Saracens and despite reports to the contrary, the Welsh management team insist he has not been ruled out of the Australia game yet.
If fit, he is expected to start at 15 before Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny. Should he be ruled out, Halfpenny would wear the 15 shirt.
14. Leigh Halfpenny
Since returning from a serious knee injury at the tail-end of last season, the Toulon full-back has impressed with his outstanding place kicking, boasting a 100% record from the tee in this year’s Top 14.
He has also been solid in defence and lively in attack, having run 170 metres with ball in hand this year.
Due to Liam Williams’ summer form against the All Blacks and his excellent start to this season, Rob Howley is expected to plump for Williams at 15 with Halpenny, who started his career on the wing, slotting in at 14.
13. Jonathan Davies
After a slow start, the former Clermont centre has looked good in midfield, with his powerful carrying giving the Scarlets important go forward.
He has also struck up a good partnership with Scott Williams, with Williams’ creativity and Davies’ power proving to be a very useful combination.
A stalwart of the Welsh midfield for some time, expect the 56-times capped star to line up alongside Jamie Roberts for the umpteenth time.
12. Jamie Roberts
The vastly experienced centre has looked good for Harlequins this season with his ability to get over the gain line and his robustness in defence.
With Wales trying to play a more expansive game, many Welsh fans feel that Roberts’ direct style no longer fits, with the ball playing skills of Scott Williams deemed more suitable.
Having been cleared by Premiership Rugby this week to play in the game, it would be a major surprise if the conservative Howley leaves out Wales’ defensive captain, who has made more than 40 starts alongside Davies in the Welsh midfield.
11. George North
The Northampton flyer has made a good start to the season, dotting down three times in nine games while looking dangerous with ball in hand.
Like Roberts he was cleared this week to play in the game but a hand injury sustained during the Saints’ 41-7 defeat to Castres is a concern for Wales, although they are hopeful he will be fit for the match.
If he were to miss out, Dragons winger-cum-full-back Hallam Amos would probably replace him.
10. Dan Biggar
The 48-times capped pivot has made a solid start to the season: impressive off the kicking tee, distributing well, and kicking out of hand effectively.
But the 27-year-old is coming under increasing pressure from teammate Sam Davies who has been outstanding thus far while the Blues’ Gareth Anscombe has shone at 10 with his playmaking abilities.
But Biggar, who on the whole did a decent job at 1o during the first two tests against the All Blacks before – like most of the team – disappointing in the third test, will start.
Despite not being at his best during the Six Nations and having struggled to recapture his 2015 World Cup form, Biggar is still in credit with the Welsh management. But with Davies and Anscombe breathing down his neck, he will have to up his game this autumn.
9. Rhys Webb
The Ospreys scrum-half has looked very sharp at the base of the scrum as his side have made a very impressive start to the season.
The arch-poacher has scored three tries in seven appearances this season and has combined particularly well with Sam Davies when he has started at 10.
One of Wales’ key attacking weapons, the 27-year-old will keep the Australian back-row and defence on their toes.
8. James Baker
With Taulupe Faletau definitely unavailable for the game, and the Welsh management having said that they will opt for a specialist eight with forwards coach Robin McBryde effectively saying last week that they would go for Moriarty or Baker.
With skipper Sam Warburton having now been ruled out of Saturday’s game, Moriarty will probably now occupy the 6 shirt. Thus opening the door for the three-times capped Baker, who has been in fine form this season , carrying powerfully, off-loading skilfully and making an impressive 52 tackles (only missing one) in three starts.
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7. Justin Tipuric
Welsh rugby’s form player this season, Tipuric has simply been outstanding. An integral part of the Ospreys’ excellent start to the season, the defensive captain has made an impressive 78 tackles and amazingly is yet to miss one.
He also lies third in the turnovers charts, having made seven thus far and has been excellent in attack with his brilliant handling skills and ability in the wide channels coming to the fore.
Given his form, he would probably have started at 7 even if Warburton had been fit, with Wales’ captain reverting to 6, just like for the first couple of games of last season’s Six Nations.
6. Ross Moriarty
One of Wales’ standout players against the All Blacks, the 22-year-old has carried his fine form into this season for his club, Gloucester.
Despite his team’s poor form, Moriarty has stood out with his powerful ball carrying giving his team real go forward, and his clever lines of running showing that he has added variety to his game.
His work rate has also caught the eye along with his impressive work in defence.
5. Alun Wyn Jones
The talismanic second-row has been in superb form this season: excellent in the lineout, carrying robustly and leading from the front as always.
102-cap Jones will be a key figure if Wales are to end their Australian hoodoo.
4. Bradley Davies
The experienced Davies will probably edge out Bath’s Luke Charteris due to the fact that the former Racing 92 lock played for his club in their 13-10 win away to Exeter yesterday and will arrive back in camp late.
19st 3lb Davies has made a decent start to his Ospreys career and will offer Rob Howley a good lineout option, plenty of grunt at scrum-time, and physicality and graft in the tight.
3. Samson Lee
Since returning recently from a shoulder injury sustained during Wales’ tour to New Zealand, 26-times capped Lee has impressed for his region.
The accomplished scrummager has given a Scarlets pack which was really struggling at the set-piece greater stability, and the 23-year-old will look to target an Australian scrum which has struggled recently.
2. Ken Owens
Owens has been at the heart of the Scarlets upturn in form after a a disappointing start to the season which saw Wayne Pivac’s men lose their opening three games.
The Scarlets skipper has led from the front with his strong ball carrying and non-stop work rate.
His achilles heel of the lineout has also generally been good, highlighted by the fact that teammate Aaron Shingler lies in fourth place in the lineout charts with 21 takes.
1. Gethin Jenkins
Wales’ most capped forward was excellent against New Zealand and has been in top form for the Blues this season with his non-stop work in the loose while also doing a decent job at scrum-time.
The 35-year-old should make his 127th appearance in a Welsh shirt and was a member of the last team to beat the Aussies back in 2008.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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