Former Wales and Ospreys legend Shane Williams has picked the team he thinks should start against Australia in Wales’ opening autumn international clash on November 11, in a column for Wales Online.
Warren Gatland will name his squad for the four test series on Tuesday morning, with Wales taking on Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.
There are with the exception of Cardiff Blues youngster Seb Davies at second-row, no surprises in Williams’ XV, with the 87 cap former winger opting for effectively the same team which Wales fielded during last year’s autumn internationals and the last Six Nations.
Williams has plumped for Saracens winger Liam Williams, who enjoyed a fine Lions series during the summer and who has started with a bang for his new club this season, at 15 instead of Scarlets full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who moves to the right wing.
The thinking being that the elusive Williams is better in his favoured position of full-back rather than out wide and that the dependable Halfpenny who started his test career on the wing has proven in the past that he can do a job at 14.
While in-form Scarlets flyer Steff Evans, who currently tops the Pro 14 charts for defenders beaten, clean breaks, metres gained and try assists, gets the nod at 11 by virtue of Northampton powerhouse George North’s knee injury, which sees the 69 cap North Walian miss the whole of the autumn series.
Wales’ top try scorer who touched down an amazing 58 times during an eleven year international career, goes for a settled combination in midfield opting for the experienced Scarlets’ Pro12 winning pairing of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies.
Combative Ospreys pivot Dan Biggar who impressed with the Lions during the summer and who has made a solid start to the season stays at 10 with his Ospreys teammate Rhys Webb who has been at the centre of an eligibility storm for the national side following their new selection policy, partnering him at nine.
Arguably the world’s second-best No8-Taulupe Faletau, who has been in excellent form for Bath this season after playing a key role in the summer down in New Zealand, is at eight, with Ospreys talisman Justin Tipuric at seven in place of the injured Sam Warburton, who is ruled out until the new year with a neck injury.
With abrasive Gloucester blindside Ross Moriarty yet to return to action, the 40 year-old goes for in-form Scarlets backrower Aaron Shingler at six, describing the versatile forward as ‘the full package’.
In the only real surprise in the three-times Lions tourist’s selections, he turns to youth rather than experience, opting for exciting 21 year-old Cardiff Blues second-row Seb Davies in the boilerhouse instead of the Scarlets’ Jake Ball.
Twice-capped Davies, who made his international bow against Tonga during Wales’ summer tour, is highly rated by the Wales management and seems to have a big future ahead of him.
Wales’ most capped lock and Wales’ second-most capped player behind Gethin Jenkins, the outstanding Alun Wyn Jones described by his former teammate as an ‘inspirational presence’,pairs Davies in the second-row with the Ospreys skipper wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Lions captain Sam Warburton.
The strong scrummaging Samson Lee edges out Exeter’s Tomas Francis for the No3 shirt with Scarlets skipper Ken Owens, who appeared off the bench twice against the All Blacks during the summer, remaining at hooker.
Rob Evans make it an all Scarlets front-row, despite the mobile prop still being out of action after suffering a concussion against Edinburgh last month.
The team is generally a good one but having pacy Dragons winger Hallam Amos, who has made an impressive start to the season, in place of Halfpenny at 14 would be one of two changes I would make.
The second being having the industrious Ball at four and bringing on the talented Davies around the 60 minute mark, as a means to introduce him gradually to top-level international rugby.
One thing is for sure, Wales will have to be at their very best to beat the much-improved Wallabies next month, a team who Wales have failed to beat since 2008.
Shane Williams’ XV to take on Australia
15. Liam Williams
14. Leigh Halfpenny
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Scott Williams
11. Steff Evans
10. Dan Biggar
9. Rhys Webb
1. Rob Evans
2. Ken Owens
3. Samson Lee
4. Alun Wyn Jones
5. Seb Davies
6. Aaron Shingler
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Taulupe Faletau