Warren Gatland given two big reasons to smile but one omission just got more confusing

Jac Morgan of Ospreys celebrates a Nicky Smith-inspired scrum
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)


Warren Gatland and the rest of the Wales management team were keen observers of last night's United Rugby Championship quarter-final between Munster and the Ospreys at Thomond Park. Yes, the Wales training squad for this summer's Test matches against South Africa and Australia has already been named, but there were more than a few players with a point to prove.

Firstly, the Ospreys' gutsy 23-7 defeat to Munster is significant because it means their six-strong Wales contingent will be available for the clash against the world champions at Twickenham on June 22, remarkably the same date as the URC final. While it would have been a huge shot in the arm for Welsh rugby if the Ospreys had made the final, Wales' squad should now be considerably stronger against the Springboks.

There's no doubt a big quarter-final clash against a side like Munster on their own patch provides a better yardstick to judge a player's readiness and suitability to international rugby. So, what would Gatland have learnt last night?

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This will hardly come as a shock to the New Zealander but his Rugby World Cup co-captain Jac Morgan was outstanding in Limerick last night and it's safe to say his injury worries are behind him. The 24-year-old put in a huge shift in defence, topping the tackle charts with 19 while he also carried well.

Munster laid siege to the Ospreys line for large periods of the game but Morgan persisted in smashing them backwards, while he also slowed down their speed of ruck ball at the breakdown. If Wales are have any chance this summer then they need their inspirational backrower firing on all cylinders.

Owen Watkin, who is probably the favourite to start at inside centre against the Springboks, didn't give an inch in defence, while a lovely flick on pass led to the Ospreys' only try of the game. But it was a mixed bag for new Wales squad member Keelan Giles, who showed the best and worst of his game in the first five minutes.

The 26-year-old was partly at fault for Munster's opening try, with a weak tackle on Simon Zebo, before showing the speed and finishing prowess to score shortly after. We all know how dangerous Giles is in broken play, but his defence will remain a concern for Gatland.

Like with Morgan, what will have brought a smile to Gatland's face will have been the performance of Dewi Lake who missed the Six Nations due to injury. Lake put in a huge shift, making 16 tackles, getting the Ospreys over the gainline with his carrying, while his throwing into the lineout was accurate.

What Lake brings is raw physicality, size and power - three ingredients which were lacking during the Six Nations.

And what of those who missed out on Gatland's summer squad?

The omission of Morgan Morris was met with outcry on social media, with Munster assistant coach Denis Leamy labelling the 25-year-old the "most underrated player in Europe". When asked why he had left Morris out of his squad Gatland said: "We look at things off the ball and those sorts of things. Morgan has had some really good games for the Ospreys.

"We've got a lot of players in those positions as well but for him it's about working and making sure that he does things on both sides of the ball not just from an attacking perspective." At Thomond Park on Friday night Morris put in 16 tackles and was instrumental in keeping the score down.

There were no trademark carries but the dynamic No 8 got stuck in and was part of a brave Ospreys defensive effort. It is probably a question of whether he is big enough to make as much of a physical impact on the international circuit and it is hard to say whether he would or not, but he can consider himself very unlucky not to make the squad.

The more head-scratching omission is Nicky Smith. The 30-year-old took Munster to the cleaners at scrum time, while he put in 10 tackles and carried well. Smith is a significantly better scrummager than Corey Domachowski and Kemsley Mathias, two players selected ahead of him in the squad, and it's safe to assume this too could partly be down to size.

In a world full of giants, has Morris got the size to make as much of a dent as he does at club level? That's something we'll never know unless he's given a chance, but for now Wales will go in a different direction.