I really do wonder what James has to do to be selected. On the whole I was fairly pleased with who Robin McBryde has picked to face Tonga and Samoa. There are a lot of good youngsters coming through the system in Wales and hopefully we’ll see them in action in the Southern Hemisphere.
They’re complimented by some experienced campaigners in the likes of Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams who will be McBryde’s go-to men in the next few weeks. But for me, there are two or three players who haven’t been selected that you have to question. James, Matthew Morgan and Rhys Patchell all fall into that category.
I must admit I was expecting Scott to be named captain, but I’m pleased to see Jamie get the nod. I’m sure some people will be surprised at the appointment. The fact Jamie hasn’t been starting for Wales this season and now he’s skipper is a bit of a shock. I’m sure it is to him, too, but it just goes to show how things can change so quickly.
Let’s face it, Jamie is the most experienced player selected for this tour so it does make sense. He’s been on more tours than anyone else involved and has two experiences of the Lions. I’m sure missing out on Warren Gatland’s squad this time will make him extra motivated.
I wish him all the best because Jamie is a great bloke, a great leader and only wants the best for Wales. I’m sure he’ll also excel at all the other things that come with the captaincy like the media and sponsorship activities. Everyone knows how intelligent Jamie is so it should be water off a duck’s back!
Back to James now.
I read this week that Robin believes James needs to avoid injury and play more consistently to make the cut. That was confusing to me because if you’ve watched James all season, you know he ticks those boxes. If I was Wales coach, he’d have made my squad all day long.
You don’t make the PRO12 dream team without producing a string of regular top-class displays and while James has had a few knocks, who isn’t carrying some form of injury in the game these days?
I’m sure people reading this will point to Wales’ openside riches as a logical reason for James’ omission, and it’s true that in Ollie Griffiths, Ellis Jenkins and Thomas Young we are stocked with talent. But for me, James offers something different. I like the way he plays the game and he could still end the season by lifting the PRO12 trophy with the Scarlets.
He’s been going well for the last two to three seasons, and I would have thought this would have been the perfect opportunity to give him his first taste of the international environment.
He’s been on the fringes for some time, but he’s a constant nuisance and deserves a chance. You want to pick players who the opposition don’t want to face and, in the nicest possible way, James fits into that category! His work rate is very good, he’s excellent at the breakdown for a man who’s not the biggest and we all know how he flourishes with ball in hand.
Another reason why he’d have made my squad is I think he’d be perfect to face the Pacific Islanders. I know from my own career that when you face these teams, the game can get very fast and loose quite quickly. Wales will want to avoid that by playing smart and controlling territory.
Sometimes, though, you can’t stop it happening and James’ Sevens background could have really helped in what could end up being two chaotic clashes.
James has missed the cut, and he’s unlucky to be in the same boat as Matthew and Rhys. I’m sure the coaches have looked at Matthew’s size and decided that has counted against him. Wales are going to meet some enormous blokes next month and yes, it’s going to be physical.
Matthew isn’t the biggest of guys, but his absence is another strange decision. I’m certain he still has a lot to give to Wales. All players have positives and negatives, but if you keep focusing on Matthew’s size and his perceived poor tackling, you miss what he’s good at and that’s ripping defences to pieces.
I’m surprised he’s not made the cut because he can play 10 and 15. The same applies for Rhys who I have been very impressed with at the Scarlets since his return from injury.
It’s interesting to see Rhun Williams is the only specialist full-back in the squad. I know he’s played on the wing for Cardiff Blues, but he looks like he’s got a bit of a head start on the other youngsters in the squad.
There are 13 uncapped players and what Robin will want to see is those guys putting their hands up and saying ‘pick me’. It’s a brilliant opportunity for them, and Rhun is all of a sudden at the head of the queue. He’s shown glimpses of what could be a superb talent with the Blues this season. He doesn’t look the quickest, but he knows where the line is and is very solid in his tackling and under the high ball.
Test rugby will be another step up, but Rhun can flourish against the Pacific Islanders. Tonga and Samoa aren’t the best at their tactical kicking and that could give Wales plenty of room and space to run. That’s where the likes of Rhun, Keelan Giles and Steffan Evans can flourish.
That’s a really exciting prospect for me because that trio could well end up being the next Wales back three.