Wales' 10 absentees present Warren Gatland with chance to peer into future

James Fender during the Ospreys' clash with Montpellier earlier in the season -Credit:Getty Images
James Fender during the Ospreys' clash with Montpellier earlier in the season -Credit:Getty Images

When Wales face South Africa next month they could do so without a sizeable chunk of experience.

The issue Wales have got is their clash with South Africa at Twickenham on June 22 is outside of World Rugby's international window. Even though the English Premiership will be done and dusted for the season at this point it is PRL policy not to release players outside of the designated international window, meaning Wales could be without a host of key players for a daunting assignment against the reigning world champions.

Warren Gatland could be without Dillon Lewis, Archie Griffin, Dafydd Jenkins, Will Rowlands, Christ Tshiunza, Tommy Reffell, Max Llewellyn, Callum Sheedy, Jarrod Evans, Nick Tompkins and Josh Hathaway. This Test match is played on the same weekend as the United Rugby Championship final and given the strength of the South African sides the Springboks could be missing some top players themselves.

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But given the strength in depth in South African rugby, any side Rassie Erasmus fields will be a formidable one. Assuming the Welsh Rugby Union don't strike a deal with PRL, which if recent history is any sort of guide would be highly unlikely, then the clash at Twickenham could provide opportunities for a handful of fringe players to show their worth on the international stage.

By far the biggest area of concern is at second-row with Gatland's Six Nations captain Jenkins and Tshiunza potentially unavailable while Will Rowlands could be on Racing 92 duty. To compound matters further Adam Beard, a big favourite of Gatland's, has been ruled out of this summer's action with an ankle injury.

Wales will need others to stand up against arguably the strongest pack of forwards in the world game. Teddy Williams was a member of Gatland's Six Nations squad but is currently sidelined with injury but should he return in time the 23-year-old would be a prime contender to start.

Williams is an athletic second-row, stylistically the type of tight-five forward the All Blacks have always favoured, with his handling, lineout work and effectiveness in the wide channels a real strength of his game. The challenge for Williams is whether he can be as effective in slower and tighter games against heavy packs in the international arena.

This Test match could also provide an opportunity for Dragons lock Ben Carter who has become almost the forgotten man of Welsh rugby, having won 11 caps but fallen down the pecking order in recent times. Carter makes his return from a three-game suspension against the Ospreys today and a couple of strong performances against Welsh opposition could catapult the 23-year-old into the squad.

Cardiff back-five forward Seb Davies is a likely selection given his experience and the fact he can cover lock as well as the backrow, while underrated Ospreys forward James Ratti would bring size and power. Given Gatland is building towards the next Rugby World Cup, sometimes selection can be based on a player's potential rather than the here and now.

With this in mind young Ospreys lock James Fender, who is nearing a return from injury, has a decent chance of making the squad. Fender has been in outstanding form for the Ospreys this season and is an all-round workhorse who likes to impose himself physically, while his lineout work is very good.

Dragons lock Matthew Screech and Scarlets man Morgan Jones are outside contenders, as is in-form Ospreys second-row Huw Sutton. Blindside flanker will also be an interesting selection given this is an area where Wales have never really settled on anyone since Ross Moriarty.

Aaron Wainwright did a fine job in the number six shirt at the World Cup but he is now needed at No 8 in the absence of Taulupe Faletau. Alex Mann did a credible job during the Six Nations but question marks remain over his size which is something any side needs against a monstrous South African pack, while Tshiunza is likely to be unavailable at Twickenham.

Taine Plumtree, who was absent during the Six Nations, could potentially be the long-term answer for Gatland. The Swansea-born forward has been in excellent form for the Scarlets since returning from injury, while he is one of those players who has the perfect blend of athleticism and physicality.

The 24-year-old is an excellent lineout operator and an extremely skilful player who doesn't shirk the physical battles. James Botham is another contender with his physicality, huge work rate, athleticism and ability at the breakdown providing another strong option for Gatland.

With Reffell, who was arguably the best openside in the entire Six Nations despite Wales finishing with the Wooden Spoon, unavailable for this Test match it goes without saying Jac Morgan will walk back into the number seven shirt. Morgan is a top-end international who needs no introduction and will add real quality to this Wales pack.

At tighthead prop the likeliest scenario is Gatland perseveres with Keiron Assiratti who is still learning his trade as an international scrummager but has shown promise. Scarlets tighthead Harri O'Connor is also likely to be involved, with Lewis and Griffin unavailable.

If Tompkins is out of the equation for the South African Test then Gatland still has plenty of options in midfield, the safest being experienced Ospreys stalwart Owen Watkin. He could also hand the powerful Eddie James, who has been a shinning light in a very dark season for the Scarlets, an opportunity.

James is a very powerful carrier who makes serious metres post-contact, while his Scarlets team-mate Johnny Williams is also an option, as is the Ospreys' Keiran Williams. One left-field option at inside centre could be Cardiff's Jacob Beetham who was called up to train with Wales during the Six Nations.

Beetham has played most of his rugby at full-back but might be better suited as an inside centre. At 6ft 1ins and 13st 7lbs he clearly has the size to cope with the physical demands of international rugby but it's his footballing ability which sets him apart.

Beetham is someone who could get Wales on the front foot in midfield but he also takes good options under pressure, while his passing game is very good. The Cardiff man also provides a kicking option and is a long-range place kicker.

While facing the world champions without some of their best players is a daunting task it could open doors for a few players.