England's summer squad has paved the way for Wales to not repeat huge mistake

-Credit: (Image: PA)
-Credit: (Image: PA)

Cast your mind back to the end of 2023 and it felt like Wales' wing options were fairly healthy.

The trio of Louis Rees-Zammit, Rio Dyer and Josh Adams were fairly settled, while the prospect of Immanuel Feyi-Waboso choosing to pull on the red jersey was still vey much alive.

Of course, in the space of a couple of weeks prior to the Six Nations, that all changed. Feyi-Waboso stuck his lot in with England, while Rees-Zammit opted to follow his American football dream.

During a wooden spoon campaign, Adams struggled with injury - having had to drain blood from his knee throughout the season. Even recently, there have been occasions where the 29-year-old has played through the pain.

After a long and arduous season, the expectation is that Adams won't travel to Australia this summer - instead having some well-deserved time off.

Suddenly, from those four options, it seems only one - Dragons flyer Dyer - will be around to head Down Under. As Warren Gatland prepares to name his squad next week, it's an area that perhaps will require a bit more thought than others.

Speaking to one Test level wing no longer in the frame last week, the impression you got was that options were worryingly limited. There's more to being a Test-level winger than just tries and right now, we simply don't know how many players we have capable of reaching that level.

Keelan Giles and Theo Cabango have both enjoyed fine seasons, but are both uncapped. For all the upsides of their game, they're also unproven at Test level.

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You sense Gatland might opt for one, but not both. There's also Regan Grace as a wildcard, but he's not featured in a competitive match for Bath yet.

Then there's the likes of Mason Grady and Tom Rogers - who both have featured on the international stage. However, the former likely has a future in midfield, while the latter has struggled with injury.

Perhaps that's why the loss of Feyi-Waboso is being felt all the more in Welsh rugby circles. As each week goes on, the praise for the Exeter wing only grows.

Having been capped by England in the Six Nations, he was named Gallagher Premiership breakthrough player of the season last week. To say Wales have lost out is an understatement.

It's a loss that will likely continue to raise questions within the Welsh game. Countless people have bemoaned the fact that he isn't playing for Wales.

Certainly, there's bound to be a determination to not let something similar happen again.

Perhaps there's an element of that in Josh Hathaway's likely selection next week. The Gloucester flyer has enjoyed a breakout season of his own in England this year, if not to the same fanfare of Feyi-Waboso.

In 19 matches for the Cherry and Whites, he's crossed for eight tries. Most of them have been fairly eye-catching scores, showing off his pace and finishing prowess.

That'll be something that will please the Wales coach, having recently spoken about his desire for more 'X-factor' players.

"There's a lot of young players at the moment coming through who we think are really talented," said Gatland on the Rugby Pod. "And [we want to] create those match winners, that X-factor that we lost from the World Cup.

"We lost X-factor in terms of experience and game management and control and stuff. You take out George North and Alun Wyn Jones and not having Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan, Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams available, when we look back on the World Cup, they made 50 per cent of our line breaks.

"We’re replacing that with some youngsters who are maybe five or six out of 10, at the moment. We’ve got to get them to seven or eight out of 10 or a little bit better than that.

"So that’s what you’ve got to do as a coaching group and then we've got to work hard and they’ve got to put the effort in and work hard on their skill development, their game understanding and make sure they're in the right shape physically."

As of last week, Hathaway was saying publicly that neither nation had been in touch. By now, that is bound to have changed.

England opted not to bring him in this week to Pennyhill Park, which could have something to do with his lot being thrown in with Wales. We'll have to wait and see on that front.

After the Feyi-Waboso situation, it would be easy to look at a call-up for Hathaway as knee-jerk. But that's probably a little unfair.

While no one in Welsh rugby wants the optics of another Welsh-born talent being snared by England, there's little gained by capping out of spite. Instead, should Hathaway be selected next week, it'll be down to his eye-catching moments in England this year. And, just as importantly, what he can do aerially.

Having played plenty at full-back, he'll have a decent grasp of the high ball - a prerequisite for any wing these days.

Test match rugby is largely settled by what you do in the middle third of the pitch and winning contestable kicks in the air goes a long way towards that. That's why Dyer is so highly-rated by those in the game.

But whatever back-three options Wales go for, as they search to somehow replenish their wing stocks, there's seemingly a determination that Wales won't make the same mistake as last time.

And the lack of a England call-up this week has probably paved the way for just that.