The one Wales selection that raises more questions than any other

-Credit: (Image: © Huw Evans Picture Agency)
-Credit: (Image: © Huw Evans Picture Agency)


When it came to looking for talking points in Warren Gatland's 36-man squad for this summer, it was difficult to know exactly where to start.

New faces are always a point of interest, but the sense was that there were bigger plotlines playing out.

Morgan Morris' latest omission despite his recent form was another subject matter to delve into. Then there were other selection quirks, like one fly-half or four hookers. Five tightheads? That's insane, to paraphrase Peep Show.

Some of these were predictable beforehand, some weren't. But ultimately, none of them perhaps raise as many questions as Cory Hill's recall.

The 32-year-old's return to the Wales squad is no surprise. The second-row was in the World Cup training squad before pulling out, citing his desire at the time to carry on playing for Wales.

SIGN UP: Get the new exclusive Inside Welsh rugby newsletter for full insight into what's really going on around all the big issues. This special offer will get you full access for the entire year for just £10 instead of £40.

With Wales' lack of second-row options right now - with Adam Beard, Rhys Davies and Teddy Williams all injured and Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins unavailable for the South Africa clash - it seemed likely Hill would be included.

But, to put it mildly, his inclusion is a difficult one for many in Welsh rugby. The reasons why, simply, are twofold.

There's the rugby side of the argument and the non-rugby side. With Hill, you have to start with the latter.

Back in October 2021, Hill was named among a group of men who damaged a woman's house while "under the influence of alcohol" earlier that year.

Hill was never charged by the police, with the situation dealt with by "community resolution". Cardiff conducted a full internal investigation that was endorsed at the time by the Welsh Rugby Union. However, the victim did later complain to South Wales Police over how the matter was dealt with.

By the time he was named publicly, Hill had already left Welsh rugby - having suddenly departed that summer to take up a contract in Japan with Yokohama Canon Eagles.

Since the incident, Hill hasn't played for Wales - or indeed in Wales.

For some, this will be where the argument against Hill's place in the squad both starts and ends. But there is, of course, the rugby side of things.

When Hill initially went to Japan, he was playing in the top tier. Now, you can still argue whether that's the required level to continue with Test rugby, but other players - including Liam Williams - have made that leap.

Listen to the latest WalesOnline rugby podcast below

Last year, when discussing Hill's recall to the World Cup training squad, Gatland said: "He's an outstanding line-out caller, gives us that mobility and athleticism in that tight five and I think he'll put some real pressure on the other second rows."

So that's what Gatland likes about Hill as a player, but since then, the level the former Dragons and Cardiff lock has been playing at has only dropped. When Hill was unable to secure a contract in Wales last year, he withdrew from Wales' training squad and moved to a team in Japan's fourth division.

Granted, Secom Rugguts - owned by Japanese security company Secom - are an ambitious side and will ply their trade in the third tier next year, but it's hard to make any credible case that Top East League A is the ideal preparation space for Test rugby.

Especially as the season finished back in January. Between September and January 21, Hill turned out nine times for Secom Rugguts - managing 653 minutes and scoring one try.

In that time, for example, the omitted James Ratti has started nine times at lock, beaten the Stormers in South Africa and had two other starts at six and another bench cameo.

Now, both on and off the field, there's hurdles to overcome moving forward.

This isn't to say that Hill doesn't deserve a second chance after an incident that was three years ago now - ultimately that's the call of Gatland and others at the Union - but it's a hard one to navigate.

When asked about it after naming his squad, Gatland said: "He has [apologised] and that was dealt with by Cardiff. For us, that time-frame has gone.

"He's been in the [team HQ] training and we've had a conversation about potentially being available through to the World Cup."

At the time, a representative for Hill said he had made a full and remorseful apology through Cardiff Rugby and the police. However, while that act of contrition was made through a third party, there's never been a direct apology from Hill in the public domain.

Since moving to Japan, Hill has opted against conducting media interviews to discuss the incident - even pulling out of one at late notice in 2022 while citing 'issues' with the press.

Back in the Wales squad, perhaps for the next couple of years, Hill isn't going to be afforded that luxury. He might avoid doing any press this summer, but if he's around until the 2027 World Cup, he's unlikely to keep that going.

Also, the public perception of Welsh rugby and its governing body has changed significantly since Hill left. Last year, a damning review revealed the extent of the misogyny and sexism at the WRU, following accusations earlier in the year.

Strong public contrition was the tone Nigel Walker sought to strike in the aftermath of those initial accusations - perhaps at odds with how Hill's own situation, albeit a different one, has played out.

Then, back on the rugby front, there's understandably going to be questions about whether Hill remains a Test-quality player - over three years since his last cap.

You would think, to remain in contention moving forward, he will have to leave the Rugguts. However, there's no suggestion any of the Welsh regions are interested.

There's also the argument of what picking a player plying his trade in Japan's fourth division means for the second-row talent here in Wales. Players like Ratti and Huw Sutton could certainly be aggrieved, regardless of how much stock Gatland places in club performances.

When it comes to selection, you can point to Ospreys' heavy defeats against Bulls and Leinster if you really want, but Ratti's 80 minutes in a win over the Stormers in Cape Town probably counts for more than anything done against Yakult Rabbins, Yokogawa Musashino Atlastars, Akita Northern Bullets or Tokyo Gas.

From Gatland's point of view, the time for questions on Hill's selection have now passed. In truth, they're only just beginning.