How Wales’ Rugby World Cup squad looks as just nine players nailed on exactly two years out

Wales will launch their next World Cup campaign two years from now, on September 10, 2023, when they take on Fiji in Bordeaux.

Quite some time for their squad to settle then.

Undoubtedly, there will be some who come from a long way back to claim places. In 2017, Wyn Jones had only just broken into the set-up, while Josh Adams hadn’t long returned to Worcester after being farmed out to Cinderford and Aaron Wainwright was making his regional bow for the Dragons. Yet all featured prominently in Wales’ 2019 global-tournament campaign.

Surprises happen.

Read more:Alun Wyn Jones’ raw emotion after Lions’ heartbreak

But maybe the big question for Wayne Pivac is how many of Wales’ old guard will make it through to France, with golden players such as Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Justin Tipuric not getting any younger. In a perfect world Pivac would want them all to be part of his plans, but it will be a challenge, for some more than others.

MARK ORDERS assesses the World Cup prospects of those players and others.

Back three (5 players likely to be selected)

Three certainties to start in the shape of Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams, recent Lions and surely bound for the big stage again in 2023.

Williams seems to have been around forever but will only be 31 come the next global thrash. With fellow Lions Rees-Zammit and Adams, he could help make up one of the best balanced and dangerous back threes in the tournament.

We can be less certain about who will travel in the back three alongside them.

Leigh Halfpenny will be three months shy of his 35th birthday when World Cup X unfolds, but it’s still hard to put a price on his peerless goalkicking. Might he be there or thereabouts for a last Wales hurrah?

Among those with work to do is Ioan Lloyd.

The Bristol Bears youngster didn’t feature at all in the summer despite Wales finding the going tough, especially against Argentina. But he’s a player with magic in his game, and if he can sort out his defence he may put himself in the frame, potentially for a utility-back role.

Nailed-on: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams.

Strong contenders: Leigh Halfpenny, Jonah Holmes, Hallam Amos.

Work to do: Alex Cuthbert, Johnny McNicholl, Tom Rogers, Ioan Lloyd, Steff Evans, Keelan Giles, Mat Protheroe, Owen Lane, Ashton Hewitt, Ryan Conbeer.

Keep an eye on : Corey Baldwin.

Centres (3)

Aside from George North, who’d been lined up for a Lions spot this summer before a knee injury cruelly torpedoed his chances of touring, it’s hard to think of any other midfielder who could be considered certain to make Pivac’s squad.

Jonathan Davies will be 35.

It isn’t impossible he will still be on the Test scene — Brian O’Driscoll won his final cap at the same age, while Conrad Smith was a year younger before departing.

If Davies can avoid serious injuries, and up his game after last term’s challenges, he could yet surprise some people.

Injuries have plagued Johnny Williams, too, and he could do with some good fortune on that front.

George North had a fine 2020-21 season

Up and coming is Aneurin Owen, a nice passer of the ball and a footballer who is slightly different from many centres produced in Wales in recent years. He’ll be 23 during the next World Cup — just maybe by then he could really be making an impact.

Michael Collins? Depending on how he adapts to life at the Ospreys, he could rapidly move up the pecking order.

Nailed on : George North.

Strong contenders : Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Willis Halaholo, Nick Tompkins.

Work to do : Owen Watkin, Ben Thomas, Aneurin Owen, Scott Williams, Steff Hughes, Tyler Morgan, Michael Collins, Keiran Williams, Max Llewellyn.

Fly-halves (2)

The position that could potentially cause Wales all kinds of problems for the New Zealand game this autumn, and it’s hard to think of any Welsh No. 10 we can say is definitely going to feature on the elite stage in France in two years’ time.

Dan Biggar will be 34 during the tournament, and only one player (Jonathan Davies) has played fly-half for Wales when that age or older over the past 95 years.

But Biggar has spent his entire career confounding the doubters, so perhaps it might be wise not to write him off yet.

If Gareth Anscombe can return to where he was before the injury that’s taken two years out of his career, he’d be expected to travel. There again, one step at a time.

Callum Sheedy, Jarrod Evans and Sam Davies all have admirable qualities, while Dan Jones knows how to guide a side around a pitch. There’s also Sam Costelow to consider. He’s young and has it all to prove at senior level, but there’s a touch of class about him. Possibly, he could interest Pivac.

Nailed on:

Strong contenders: Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Callum Sheedy.

Work to do: Rhys Patchell, Jarrod Evans, Sam Davies, Rhys Priestland, Dan Jones.

Keep an eye on: Sam Costelow.

Scrum-halves (3)

There is an argument that Wales have produced more outstanding players in this position than any other over the years. Think Dicky Owen, Gareth Edwards, Terry Holmes, Haydn Tanner, Rex Willis, Robert Jones, Chico Hopkins, Rob Howley, Mike Phillips and Dwayne Peel, and plenty more.

But at this stage no-one can be certain of wearing the No. 9 shirt in France in 2023.

Does anyone know who the best scrum-half in Wales is right now?

Do Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones know?

During their reign no-one has played for Wales with consistent authority in this most important of positions.

Does anyone deserve to be considered nailed-on at this stage?

Probably not.

Maybe over the next couple of years, Tomos Williams will have fully realised his potential. There is still hope he could prove to be a stellar international talent, but we can’t say with absolute certainty that is going to happen.

Bubbling under are a potentially bright crop that includes Jamie Hill, of Cardiff Blues, Harri Morgan, from the Ospreys, and Luke Davies, Harri Williams and Archie Hughes, all from the Scarlets.

Their time will doubtless come.

But that’s for the future.

Nailed on:

Strong contenders: Tomos Williams, Keiran Hardy, Gareth Davies.

Work to do: Rhys Webb, Lloyd Williams, Rhodri Williams, Dane Blacker.

Props (5)

The expectation is Wales’ two frontline props from the last World Cup, Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis, will still be at the forefront of the Welsh front-row effort.

Jones had a fine Lions tour, notwithstanding the injury that caused him problems in the final Test. He and Francis could provide Pivac’s side with a rock-solid scrummaging platform all the way through to the next World Cup and beyond.

Gareth Thomas is on the up, while WillGriff John and Samson Lee will hope to change the tighthead pecking order.

Further down the line, towards 2027, Ospreys’ youngster Garyn Phillips is one who could emerge.

Nailed on: Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis.

Strong contenders : Nicky Smith, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Leon Brown.

Work to do: Samson Lee, WillGriff John, Rhodri Jones, Rob Evans, Rhys Carre, Corey Domachowski.

Hookers (3)

The big question here is whether Ken Owens can stretch out his Wales career for another two years.

He’ll be 36 then, and his body has taken a fair old pounding over many seasons.

At this point, he’s still a cut above the other Welsh No. 2s with his mental and physical toughness.

But it’ll be a big achievement to make it to France.

Ifan Phillips is showing promise, while Dewi Lake is another with big potential. At this stage, though, and going on Pivac’s selections to date, others are in front of them.

Two for the future are Oliver Burrows and Efan Daniel, both of whom showed up well for Wales U20s this term, with Daniel’s effort against Scotland more than a bit startling.

Nailed on:

Strong contenders: Ken Owens, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Sam Parry.

Work to do: Ifan Phillips, Dewi Lake.

Second rows (4)

Adam Beard is nailed-on for the 2023 World Cup

It’s the age issue once again, this time over the titan that is Alun Wyn Jones.

After the last World Cup articles were written suggesting the 2021 Lions tour might be the big man’s swansong on the Test stage.

But there was no obvious evidence of his powers waning during the three games against South Africa.

He’ll be 38 during the next World Cup.

Alun Wyn Jones barking orders in training

Ordinarily, it’s not an age for global-tournament rugby players. There again, there is nothing ordinary about Jones.

The loss of Jake Ball and Cory Hill weakens Wales’ second-row stocks heading for the big event in 2023, so Jones may decide to see if he can push through.

Adam Beard appears a certainty after his efforts with the Lions.

It’s probably too soon to expect Christ Tshiunza to force his way into the reckoning, with his first task being to settle in senior rugby, but the young giant, who figured at six for Wales in the recent U20s Six Nations, could be the kind of hybrid player coaches tend to enjoy having around.

Let’s see how he progresses.

Nailed on: Adam Beard.

Strong contenders: Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands, Ben Carter.

Work to do: Rhys Davies, Morgan Jones, Matthew Screech, Seb Davies.

Keep an eye on: Christ Tshiunza

Back row (6)

Five front-line candidates here, all of whom will be there or thereabouts to travel.

Justin Tipuric will have just celebrated his 34th birthday when the tournament starts, so there will be some who see a question mark over him. But he has been playing as well as ever and, at this point, remains Wales’ premier openside by some distance.

Read more:‘The nearest thing we have to an All Black-style openside’ – England World Cup winner lauds Justin Tipuric

Taulupe Faletau and the versatile Josh Navidi look inked in, while the ultra-tough Ross Moriarty did his Wales prospects no harm under Pivac by fronting up impressively this summer.

A player who could come through in the coming two seasons is Will Griffiths, able to play at lock and flanker, with a big lineout game and an appetite for hard graft.

Nailed on: Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Strong contenders: Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Aaron Wainwright.

Work to do : James Botham, Josh Macleod, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Taine Basham, Will Griffiths, Jac Morgan, Ollie Griffiths, James Davies, Ben Fry, Tommy Reffell.

Keep an eye on: Morgan Morris.