The different Wales team Gatland is now likely to consider picking against South Africa

Liam Williams of Wales
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Wales' clash with South Africa at Twickenham is fast approaching, with Warren Gatland set to name his summer squad on June 3.

Following what is set to be a bruising fixture against the world champions, Wales will head off to Australia for two Tests against the Wallabies, while there is also an uncapped match against the Queensland Reds to contend with. The issue with the South African Test is that it falls outside of World Rugby's designated international window, meaning Wales will be without a whole host of players who ply their trade in England and France. Those include Six Nations captain Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Will Rowlands, Tommy Reffell and Nick Tompkins.

They will be up against it against the Springboks but it will also be an opportunity to see how certain players, who are not as experienced as others, fare against the best side in the world. Rugby correspondent Steffan Thomas takes a look at the side Gatland could select against South Africa.

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15. Cameron Winnett

The Six Nations was a real baptism of fire for the 21-year-old but he proved equal to the task. Winnett is safe under the high ball while his positional play is like a throwback to Leigh Halfpenny.

The Cardiff full-back is an extremely intelligent footballer with time on the ball who very rarely takes the wrong options. Facing the world champions will be a step up for Winnett but it would be a surprise if he wasn't up to the task.

14. Liam Williams

The 89 times capped Wales star is currently plying his trade for Kubota Spears in Japan but has been very clear that he wants to continue representing his country if possible. Even though this Test falls outside of World Rugby's designated international window, Japanese clubs have historically been amenable to releasing players while their club season will be over by then.

Josh Adams is a notable omission but the Cardiff wing has played non-stop since the Rugby World Cup with a series of niggles so the South African Test provides an opportunity to look at other players. It could be used as an opportunity for Williams to put a marker down for the Australian tour while his experience would prove more than useful against the Springboks.

13. Mason Grady

The 22-year-old didn't get the minutes he would have liked during the Six Nations but made a big impact as a replacement in the final Test against Italy. Yes, there are areas of his game in need of improvement but the positives far outweigh the negatives as far as Grady is concerned.

Grady clearly has the physical attributes to excel in the international arena while his speed is an area of his game which is often underappreciated. The Cardiff star is an explosive player who can get over the gain-line, while Gatland compared his offloading game to All Blacks great Sonny Bill Williams after the Wooden Spoon decider with Italy.

With George North having retired from Test rugby and Joe Roberts out injured, Grady has to be the front runner to start in the number 13 jersey.

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12. Owen Watkin

Watkin may not be the flashiest of centres but he is the glue which holds the Ospreys backline together. The 27-year-old has won 38 caps for Wales but arguably had his best game in a Wales shirt during the Six Nations defeat to France in Cardiff.

Ospreys head coach Toby Booth is a big fan of the centre and believes he has significantly improved his game over the past year. "He has gone away, we have supported him and he is one of our most important players because he's always a consistent performer," said Booth.

"I had a conversation with the Welsh coaches when he came in and they were glowing to how much he has grown and that's all you can do. He's more visible in influencing parts of the game overall.

"We play him at 12 and at 13 and he's shown more impact with the ball. He's one of our leading players, a defensive player with his organisation of people and how he's been around the place."

11. Rio Dyer

The Dragons wing has been a consistent performer for Wales since making his Test debut against the All Blacks in 2022. Dyer has a huge work rate, has pace and is a decent finisher while his aerial game is fairly strong.

The 24-year-old is one of the first names on Gatland's team sheet and there is no indication that will change this summer either against South Africa or Australia.

10. Sam Costelow

The Scarlets playmaker had a rough time of it during the Six Nations as he stepped out of the shadows of both Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe. Costelow may have come in for some heavy criticism from supporters but he is very highly regarded by both the Wales management and his teammates.

The 23-year-old has shown glimpses of what he is capable of on the international stage and the hope is the more time he has in the saddle the better he will become. It'll be another tough task for the Scarlets man this summer but Wales are likely to keep faith in Costelow.

9. Gareth Davies

With Tomos Williams having undergone surgery as a result of rupturing his ankle ligaments, the smart money is on Davies wearing the number nine shirt against South Africa. Yes, at 33 Davies is approaching the end of his career but his experience could prove invaluable in such a young team.

The Scarlets scrum-half remains a very dangerous broken field runner who can score tries out of nothing, while the defensive side of his game has always been admired by the Wales management. But there will be an onus on Davies to manage the game while his kicking will have to be on point.

8. Aaron Wainwright

The Dragons backrower was one of the only shining lights in a dark Six Nations campaign for Wales. With Taulupe Faletau still out injured, Wainwright will continue in the No 8 shirt this summer.

The 26-year-old brings a lot of dynamism and his carrying game has improved significantly in recent months. Wainwright is equally as comfortable in the wide channels as he is in the tight while his lineout work is very good.

7. Jac Morgan (Captain)

The return of Morgan will come as a huge boost for Wales who missed their World Cup co-captain during the Six Nations. If the British & Irish Lions were playing a Test match tomorrow Morgan would be one of the only Welsh players in with a serious chance of starting.

There is very little the Ospreys star doesn't excel at, whether that be tackling, jackling, carrying, offloading or contributing to the lineout, but more than anything else Wales will benefit from Morgan's leadership. The man from Brynamman in west Wales has the uncanny ability of lifting the performances of those around him which he will have to do if Wales are to be successful against the Springboks.

6. Taine Plumtree

Gatland has previously stated how highly he rates Plumtree who was included in his extended World Cup training squad before playing a single game of rugby in Wales. Unfortunately Plumtree missed the Six Nations because of a shoulder injury but has shown up well for the Scarlets in recent weeks.

Plumtree has a nice blend of athleticism and physicality while he is an excellent lineout forward. The 24-year-old is an extremely skilful player and is someone with a high ceiling.

Facing South Africa will be a good barometer of where he's currently at.

5. Ben Carter

Second-row is one area where Wales are seriously short of options given the game is outside the international window. Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza and Will Rowlands will be unavailable, while Adam Beard, Teddy Williams and Rhys Davies are currently sidelined with injury.

But this could provide an opportunity for Dragons lock Carter who has suffered a few setbacks since breaking into the Wales side a couple of years ago. "In Wales we don't produce many out and out second rows but the sky is the limit for Ben," said Dragons head coach Dai Flanagan.

"I really expect him to kick on and go on the summer tour. It's all up to him."

4. Seb Davies

Davies is another player who could benefit from the game being played outside the international window. The 28-year-old has been in and out of the Wales squad since 2017 but has struggled for consistency.

Davies ticks a lot of boxes in that he's versatile, has size, is skilful, can carry and is a good lineout forward but he needs to find some consistency. Wales' clash with the Springboks could be the perfect chance for Davies to prove he still has an international future.

3. Keiron Assiratti

It was a mixed bag for Assiratti during the Six Nations where he more than held his own against the formidable Joe Marler in the scrum against England but fell on the wrong side of the referee against Ireland. Tighthead prop isn't an area of strength in Wales and Assiratti is certainly a player worth persevering with.

The 26-year-old has potential as an international scrummager while he is a naturally talented rugby player. However, the Cardiff prop faces an enormous challenge against a formidable South African eight.

2. Dewi Lake

Gatland will be delighted to welcome the Ospreys hooker back after he missed the Six Nations with a hamstring injury. Lake is exactly the sort of forward Wales need if they are to stand any chance of competing with South Africa.

The 25-year-old is an extremely powerful carrier and a strong scrummager while he also adds an extra jackling threat at the breakdown.

1. Gareth Thomas

The Ospreys prop has become a regular fixture in the Wales side over the last few years and that is unlikely to change this summer. Thomas is a solid scrummager while he gets through a lot of unseen work around the park especially in defence.

Wales will need a solid set-piece to stand any chance against the Springboks and Thomas provides the best chance of providing that.


16. Ryan Elias

Eliot Dee's throwing in is the best in the Wales squad but Gatland's side will need size against the Springboks. Lake and Elias are two physical specimens who have the power to mix it with the Springboks.

17. Nicky Smith

The most notable victory by a Welsh side this season came when the Ospreys beat the Stormers on their own patch, which was no mean feat. They did this partly because Smith did a serious job on the Stormers at scrum time.

The Leicester Tigers-bound prop gave Frans Malherbe, South Africa's first choice tighthead and arguably the best scrummager on the planet, a torrid time at the set-piece.

18. Harri O'Connor

The 23-year-old has suffered some tough lessons at scrum time this season but has been better for the Scarlets of late. Wales are struggling at tighthead with both Dillon Lewis and Archie Griffin unavailable for the South Africa game, meaning O'Connor has a good chance of getting selected.

19. James Fender

The 22-year-old was arguably the form second-row in Welsh rugby this season before injury struck on the eve of the Six Nations. Fender love to get stuck in and gets through a ton of work for the Ospreys.

The man from Swansea brings a real physical edge, can carry and is very effective in the maul while his defensive stats reflect well on him. Fender is another player who could benefit from the unavailability of others against the Springboks, provided he is fit himself.

20. James Botham

The 26-year-old is the perfect bench option against the Springboks in that he can cover the back-row and has the ability to bring some real physicality off the bench. Botham is very dynamic and has a huge work rate in defence while he is also someone who can have a big influence on the breakdown.

21. Kieran Hardy

The 28-year-old has a sharp service, while his box kicking is generally accurate and his support play is very good. With Tomos Williams struggling to make the tour it would be a surprise if Hardy wasn't involved in the 23 to take on the Springboks.

22. Ioan Lloyd

The 23-year-old was involved in all five of Wales' games during a disappointing Six Nations campaign. Lloyd is arguably the most naturally gifted player in Wales and can make things happen out of nothing.

The challenge for the Scarlets man is to cut out the errors and to improve his game management but the talent is certainly there.

23. Jacob Beetham

The 23-year-old is very much on Gatland's radar having been invited into the squad to train during the Six Nations. Beetham has played most of his rugby at full-back for Cardiff but is equally as comfortable at centre and outside-half.