Four Wales players to be cut from squad as picture becomes clearer

Warren Gatland watches his players train
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)

When Wales take on South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday there will be plenty at stake for Warren Gatland's men.

Gatland currently has a squad of 38 players which will be cut to 34 for the tour of Australia. Part of the reason Gatland selected a larger training squad is due to the fact his English-based players are unavailable for the out of window Test match against the world champions.

As a result there is a huge amount of jeopardy for at least a handful of players who will need to perform well if they are to book a place on the plane to Australia next week. Rugby correspondent Steffan Thomas takes a look at the players who have the most to gain and lose this Saturday.

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Evan Lloyd

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Gatland selected the 22-year-old hooker in his Six Nations squad. After all, Lloyd was third choice at Cardiff yet had won the nod over far more established players.

But it's not hard to understand what Gatland sees in the Cardiff man. At 6ft 1in and 17st 7lbs Lloyd clearly has the size to cope physically on the international stage.

Lloyd was excellent for Cardiff against the Ospreys on Judgement Day with his dynamic carrying, accurate throwing and general physicality catching the eye. Put simply he's a work in progress but his ceiling appears to be higher than some of his rivals.

He has to make do with a place on the bench against South Africa following the return of Dewi Lake but a strong cameo should cement his place on the plane. Waiting in the wings is experienced Ospreys hooker Sam Parry who is really up against making the trip to Australia given he is not involved against the Springboks.

One would expect the reliable Elliot Dee to join Lake and Lloyd on the plane but the 30-year-old was struggling with an ankle injury at the end of the United Rugby Championship season. Gatland will surely be keen for Lloyd to continue his development so he's really in pole position to tour.

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Matthew Screech

This is a huge opportunity for the Dragons lock who at 31 probably didn't think he'd get another opportunity to represent Wales. Screech has been a reliable performer at regional level but this is the biggest challenge of his career as he goes head-to-head with Springboks great Eben Etzebeth.

Whether Screech is up to the task remains to be seen but this is arguably a career defining game for the big second-row, alongside Ben Carter, who is also fighting for his place. Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza will almost certainly be on the plane to Australia while Cory Hill is also a contender to tour.

There is no doubt Screech has benefitted from Wales' second-row crisis with Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Teddy Williams and Seb Davies also missing. Whether his international career continues after Saturday depends on how he plays against the Springboks.

This is a huge opportunity but also a massive challenge for Screech who is up against it.

James Ratti

Many felt the 26-year-old was unlucky not to make the initial squad given his form for the Ospreys this season. With doubts surrounding Cory Hill's fitness Ratti has been called into the squad and should get an opportunity to impress off the replacements bench on Saturday.

Ratti is in a similar boat to Screech in that he's a beneficiary of the sheer amount of second-rows unavailable to Wales for this out of window clash. The Ospreys man is a no nonsense forward who gets through a huge amount of unseen work while he also does his fair share of carrying.

What goes in his favour is that he can also cover the backrow but like Screech he is up against it when it comes to making the tour to Australia given Wales will soon be boosted by the likes of Jenkins and Tshiunza.

Henry Thomas and Keiron Assiratti

Make no bones about it Wales will be come under severe pressure at the scrum this weekend. The selection of new Scarlets signing Henry Thomas is a smart move given he has scrummaged successfully at a very high level in both England and France.

Keiron Assiratti was a bit inconsistent during the Six Nations, scrummaging well against Scotland and England before coming under real pressure at the set-piece later on in the Championship. You'd expect Gatland to take four tightheads to Australia with Dillon Lewis, Archie Griffin and Harri O'Connor also in contention.

A respectable performance from both Thomas and Assiratti should see them on the plane.

Eddie James

The 21-year-old has performed well for the Scarlets this season and has all the attributes required to develop into a top end international class player. James has size, power and pace while his distribution is an underrated part of his game.

If James can make a big impact off the bench on Saturday then it isn't out of the question he could leapfrog Nick Tompkins in the midfield pecking order. One would expect Gatland to take three outside-halves to Australia which make Ben Thomas and Jacob Beetham likely selections, given their versatility.

James appears to have a big future in the game and a strong performance at Twickenham could see him continue his development in Australia this summer.