Warren Gatland's three most eye-catching selections show exactly how Wales want to play

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

It's fair to say there were more than a few intriguing selections in Warren Gatland's starting XV to take on Australia in Sydney this Saturday.

Perhaps the most eye-catching was his decision to start Gloucester speedster Josh Hathaway from the start in what will be the 20-year-old's first cap for Wales. While outright pace and finishing prowess remain vitally important ingredients for a winger, the aerial game is right at the top of the list of must-haves.

Test matches are often won and lost in the middle third, with the side that wins the aerial battle putting themselves in a strong position to win the duel. This will be Hathaway's challenge on Saturday, ensuring he dominates in the air, but it won't be easy against the likes of Andrew Kellaway and Liam Wright.

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Looking back at Wales' five defeats during the Six Nations and the loss against South Africa at Twickenham, Gatland's side succeeded at putting every team under pressure. But what they didn't succeed at is turning pressure into points.

Experienced centre Nick Tompkins didn't beat around the bush this week when asked to describe Wales' game plan. "We will probably have a more simplified game plan," Tompkins told the Rugby Union Daily podcast.

"You are going to see what some people might find boring or tedious but we are going to get back to our roots, working hard and making sure our defence, kicking game and how we compete for the ball is dominant again.

"We are trying to strip things right back and give ourselves something we can hang our hat on and be proud of. You have to give yourselves an identity as a team and that's how you breed confidence. You have to start with the fundamentals."

Put simply Hathaway is there to add a cutting edge out wide, but he has to ensure both his aerial and defensive game are sound. Hathaway has scored six tries in 11 appearances for Gloucester and he has been selected to add cutting edge out wide which has been missing since Louis Rees-Zammit packed it all in for the NFL.

Hathaway is the most eye-catching selection but arguably the most intriguing is Christ Tshiunza at lock. The 22-year-old has partly been selected at lock due to the fact Wales are without Will Rowlands, who has been left at home to rest, while Ben Carter has a back strain.

Put simply Tshiunza is a supreme athlete but has still has many rough edges and despite having already won 10 international caps has not had a standout game to date for Wales. But his ceiling is very high and Tshiunza has so many potential strings to his bow he could add a different dimension to the Wales pack.

Tshiunza, who has previously been considered a backrower, has the size to excel in the international arena and has put on 6kg during his time sidelined with a foot injury. The Exeter Chiefs star will add some considerable weight in the scrum, while also improving Wales' lineout.

But Gatland will want him to carry and make some serious post-contact metres to get Wales on the front foot while also generating some quick ball. Wales seriously lacked carriers during the Six Nations and while both Carter and Matthew Screech did well against the Springboks, neither carried much ball.

Tshiunza needs to give Wales this dimension but what's exciting about his selection is his athleticism and dynamism. With Tshiunza and Taine Plumtree in the pack Wales have two players with a bit of X-factor who can add a little bit extra, be that offloading in the wide channels or another jackal threat at the breakdown which will be important given the Wallabies have selected a couple of fetchers in Liam Wright and Fraser McReight.

As Tompkins said, Wales will adopt a rigid back-to-basis game plan but what the likes of Tshiunza and Hathaway should add is a little bit extra quality and X-factor which Gatland hopes will make the difference. So, we've had the most eye-catching selection, the most intriguing selection, but what about the most important selection?

As far as this writer is concerned that would be Bath tighthead Archie Griffin. Gatland himself has identified tighthead prop and the scrum as one area where Wales have struggled since the Rugby World Cup.

The absence of the experienced Tomas Francis, who now plies his trade for Provence Rugby in the PRO D2, has been harshly felt while an injury to former England prop Henry Thomas is far from ideal. Gatland is desperate for a young tighthead to come through and grab this position by the scruff of the neck.

The 22-year-old Griffin has a huge opportunity against the Wallabies with Dillon Lewis not quite fit enough to play. As expert stats guru Russ Petty has identified, Griffin has played a total of 365 minutes of professional rugby, while his opposite number in the scrum, James Slipper, has won 134 caps for Australia.

This is a huge Test for Griffin, but if he can hold the scrum then Wales have every chance of winning their first Test match in seven attempts.