We often talk about Lions bolters as if outsiders can only be called up for the combined setup, but maybe it's time to start looking at players who are underrated within their own positions and SHOULD get a call up as a bolter for their own nation. Despite the animosity and critique towards the huge transition the Welsh team is going through, I personally believe there is a lot of talent in, and outside, of Wales to pick from. Let's dive into our picks...
5. Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues)
Willis Halaholo is perhaps not your typical pick for a list like this. He's 30 years old, New Zealand-born and has a patchy injury record to say the least. It's that injury record that probably suggests why he is yet to be capped at international level; the guy has rotten luck. Even though he perhaps doesn't fall in line with this new wave of Welsh youngsters, I definitely believe the Six Nations could be his time to make a mark in those centres. He's a fantastic ball carrier and that's really what Wales need in that backline; they looked toothless in attack during the ANC and really need someone to compliment the likes of Williams and Tompkins in those centres. He's a great squad option too, capable of adding impact off of the bench when Wales need it; he's not an amazing tackler, but he does have that game-changing ability in offence which he illustrated well with the Blues last time out. Wales need results, and even though Willis is a short term option like Hadleigh Parkes before him, he could definitely help the Welsh push up the numbers in the winning column.
4. WillGriff John (Sale Sharks)
You don't have to be an avid supporter of Sale Sharks to realise what an asset it is to have a player like WillGriff John. A behemoth at scrum time, Wales were decimated during the Autumn and really need a battle-hardened scrummaging specialist to sort out their set piece. He's been unlucky not to already receive a cap, missing out due to the Covid-caused, Scotland vs Wales cancellation, but now it's definitely time to call upon his expertise. At 28 years old, he's now in his peak performance years and you could definitely squeeze a world cup out of his platform; Wales have a great track record of props coming into their pomp later in their careers. Any front row featuring Francis and John would make nations wince at scrum time; as an Englishman, I personally don't want this to happen as he's often found decimating my beloved Wasps!
Photo Copyright Credit: Getty Images
3. Ashton Hewitt (Dragons)
Get this man on the pitch... Wales' backline options are somewhat frustrating, with clear talent across the park and lots of experienced heads to call upon, but on the wings it feels like the same old story. When Adams broke through, it felt like a breath of fresh air, 'FINALLY, Wales have started to pick someone IN FORM'! Gone were the days of picking unfit, not match ready wingers such as North and Cuthbert... Then slowly the likes of North started to get picked again, and we saw Liam Williams get shipped out to the wing also to cover some gaps then BOOM. Louis Rees-Zammit bursts on the scene and perhaps becomes one of Wales' most consistent players during the ANC. It's time to start looking towards the future, and with Adams (25), LRZ (19) and Ashton Hewitt (26), you've potentially got at least 2 World Cup's of talent on your hands. Also... Absolute gas! Wales could become absolute wheels with Hewitt also added to their squad; they need some attacking inspiration and you'll certainly get that with Hewitt on the wing.
2. Harrison Keddie (Dragons)
When you think of great Welsh teams, and even the better performing Welsh sides of recent years, Wales usually have back row options that are outright unplayable. However, as options started thinning out, as did competition within that back row. As much as we love Tipuric and Faletau, there will be times where they will both be out of form or unfit; we saw that throughout the Six Nations and ANC. People like Wainwright and Navidi shine during those periods and add some much needed gusto but then what happens if either of them are injured? Let's go back to the ANC where Wales were visibly weak in the back row against top competition from Ireland and England. They need to continue building depth in these areas as England, Scotland and Ireland have done so brilliantly themselves. If you have a squad, or at least a pool, of names such as Navidi, Faletau, Wainwright, Tipuric, Keddie and Moriarty to pick from, you start to rival the depth of the best nations in the game. Get him some game time in the smaller matches, get him training with the squad and you will have a bonafide consistent performer on your hands.
1. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears)
Scrum Half is the weakest position currently in the northern hemisphere (excluding the mighty French half backs). Youngs, Gibson-Park, Price and Braley are the starters for their nations; perhaps the weakest set of number 9's we've seen in over a decade. However, Wales have some aces up their sleeves. Tomos Williams is a world class scrum half, Gareth Davies would start for any international home nation, Rhys Webb (though reaching the end of his career) still has moments of glorious invention and that's just naming who we already see picked in the setup. So why do we pick Randall at the number one spot? There are so many reasons... If you pick him, get him capped, he's out of the English talent pool; yet again as an Englishman, that would be devastating. Although we have talent such as Robson and Spencer, that's hardly the depth we need to push on throughout the next four years. Secondly, he is THE in-form Scrum Half in one of the toughest leagues in the world. He's decisive, gutsy, young and absolute wheels; he loves playing at an unbelievable pace, setting a ridiculous tempo that other teams cannot possibly match. Thirdly he currently plays with Sheedy, potentially the future of the Welsh 10 jersey, day in and day out. They have built an incredible chemistry together that just rocked the European champions last weekend. My fourth and final option, one that I kind of already touched upon, he's so young! Between him and Williams, you have an average age of 24/25. That's at least 2 World Cup's worth of depth split between two electrifying Scrum Half's. Need I say more?
Photo Copyright Credit: Bristol Post 2021