Wales v Ireland, Millennium Stadium, Saturday 8th August 2015
Team: Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Scott Williams (Scarlets, capt), Eli Walker (Ospreys); James Hook (Gloucester Rugby), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro); Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Dominic Day (Bath Rugby), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, vice-capt), Dan Baker (Ospreys).
Replacements: Rob Evans (Scarlets), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), James King (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Matthew Morgan (Bristol Rugby).
James Hook had made the unused replacement spot his own for a few seasons as he fell behind Rhys Priestland and then Dan Biggar in the fight for the Wales number 10 jersey. His versatility may have counted against him in some respects but it was probably more fundamental deficiencies in his game that have caused his absence from the Welsh first XV over recent seasons.
His unstructured approach to number 10 play often seems like an anachronism in modern rugby and has probably counted against him in the fight for the fly-half position. He can also play centre but his style does not suit the straight, hard running centre approach that Gatland bases a lot of his game plan around.
Hook has fallen out of favour with the Welsh management which makes it a slightly odd selection for this coming weekend’s game against Ireland. This is a shadow Welsh team but Hook isn’t the future of the Wales number 10 shirt so what objective is being met by playing him at this position in this game? Is Gareth Anscombe seen as a 15 rather than a 10?
Our view is that Amos doesn’t have the flat speed or acceleration for a top class winger which makes the potential move to 15 seem a sensible option, particularly with Liam Williams’ World Cup involvement in question.
Under a Gatland game plan the full back isn’t used primarily as an attacking weapon but should be someone who is confident under a high ball and someone who has a good boot (usually in a kick and try and re-gather approach) rather than kicking the corners for position.
In these two areas Amos has improved over the last season or but the jury is still out that he have what it takes to be an international 15. These sorts of games will help us to find out the answer but it does show that the main deficiency in the Welsh squad is still strength in depth.
Is Amos now seen as the 3rd choice 15, relegating Hook to covering for 10 and perhaps centre, which is the position Wales is the lightest in the back line?
Tight head may not have quite the importance under the new scrum engagement laws but there is no doubt it is still a crucial position and one in which Wales find themselves potentially in some trouble.
With Samson Lee’s involvement in the tournament “touch and go” and the rapid demise of Adam Jones, Wales are looking at two potential first choice tight heads; Jarvis and the as yet untried Tomos Francis of Exeter.
Jarvis is not a great scrummager which was no more evident than when he replaced Lee in last season’s 6 Nations game versus Ireland. Ireland’s scrum was not recognised as a potent weapon, yet the enforced introduction of Jarvis resulted in Ireland having a dominant scrum platform and Wales struggling to secure their own ball.
It may be that the Welsh management has already decided Francis is the best option given his scrummaging strengths and Jarvis is playing for a place on the bench. Samson Lee’s return can’t come quick enough.