Wales rugby squad shock goes completely under the radar

Matthew Screech won his one Wales cap in 2021
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)

When Warren Gatland named his squad for summer Tests against South Africa and Australia, Matthew Screech's name went under the radar.

Gatland was always going to have to look outside the usual suspects at second-row with up to six locks unavailable for the South African Test at Twickenham which falls outside of World Rugby's designated international window. If a recall for Cory Hill was a shock, so was the selection of Screech who has a great chance of taking the field against the world champions next Saturday.

At 31-years-old many pundits might have expected Gatland to blood a younger option but Screech has been rewarded for his form for the Dragons. The man from Church Village could have been forgiven for thinking international honours had passed him by having won just the one cap for Wales as a replacement against Argentina back in 2021.

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Of course, his only cap came under the regime of former coach Wayne Pivac but Screech has another opportunity to show what he can do at international level and it could be his last chance. Screech, who came through the Cardiff age grade system, represented Wales at age grade level but struggled to push onto the international circuit.

Screech made 163 appearances between 2013 and 2021 before returning for a second spell at the club from Cardiff in 2022. The 31-year-old is a valued member of the Dragons squad and has been one of their better players but whether he has what it takes to successfully make the step up to international rugby remains to be seen.

At 6ft 5in and 18st 3lbs Screech has the size to play international rugby but should he take the field against the Springboks he could be going toe-to-toe with the world's best second-row in Eben Etzebeth. It's one thing performing well for a struggling Dragons side in the United Rugby Championship but doing it against the likes of Etzebeth is another thing entirely.

This season Screech has made 88 carries for 54 metres in 1,239 minutes of rugby while he has won 58 lineouts. Screech is not an X-Factor player but is dependable, with the lineout his point of difference.

In other words he is dependable without being celebratory. A former coach of Screech said: "He brings an element of calm and does not get flustered.

"He's a very sharp lineout operator, very methodical and is an intelligent rugby player. He is also excellent at organising lineouts and has good hands.

"From a lineout point of view he is an asset to the team. He'll hit a few rucks, make a few tackles but whether he can impact the game at international level I'm not sure. He will carry a fair bit and adds a bit of ballast in the scrum which will obviously be important against the Springboks.

"But whether he can make a difference in the international arena remains to be seen."

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The likeliest second-row pairing for Wales' meeting with South Africa is probably Ben Carter and Cory Hill with Screech on the bench.

This will be a level Screech has never been tested at before against the strongest pack in world rugby. Yes, South Africa will be without a host of front line players but the pack remains strong enough to win an arm wrestle against anybody.

Along with Etzebeth, Rassie Erasmus has a choice of Ben Jason-Dixon, Salmaan Moerat and Franco Mostert who are all physical specimens and outstanding lineout forwards. It's stating the obvious somewhat to say Wales' biggest challenge will be two-fold; the set-piece and how they cope with South Africa's immense physicality.

As with any player whether Screech is a success or not depends on if he can find that little bit extra, a point of difference on the international stage to influence the game. Gatland currently has a squad of 37 players which will be reduced to 34 before they depart for Australia.

With Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza returning Screech really needs to impress against the Springboks if he is to win a third cap.