Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wales' Greatest Produce

British industry output suffered a massive dip in August on the back of an equally large decline in manufacturing output.

However, there is a little is a factory in the valleys where production is still running high. No need for disputed nuclear power stations or controversial fracking here either; an abundant seam of raw materials has obviously been unearthed. The workers at the 'Outside Half Factory' are working harder than ever.

The Welsh number 10 shirt is more coveted than keys to the Brains Brewery or a night in the company of Katherine Jenkins and as the dark nights are drawing in, so are the first autumn internationals. That means the competition for the outside half position is at fever pitch.

As it stands, the pivotal and iconic role within the Welsh team is in the possession of Dan Biggar. Biggar made the role his own in this year's Six Nations, having made 11 appearances previously but never starting two on the bounce.
Dan Biggar, Wales, Outside Half, 10, Rugby, Kick
The Ospreys based outside half made a shaky start against Ireland, but so too did the 14 other men in red shirts that started that day. Biggar proved the doubters wrong though, as he grew in maturity to become a vital part of a successful campaign.

Now the Ospreys have dealt him a blow in the build up to the opening test against South Africa, starting him at fullback with the prodigious Matthew Morgan filling the 10 slot.

Morgan himself has been earmarked for Wales, but it is far too soon for him as things stand. There is no doubting Morgan's ability in attack; at times he has left defences trying to stop him resembling Dick Dastardly and Muttley trying to stop the pigeon. Questions remain over his defence and organisation however.
Scarlets' Rhys Priestland has returned to the Llanelli based club looking quicker, sharper and stronger than before.

Until his injury, Priestland was Gatland's first choice. He justified that selection at the World Cup in New Zealand and was one of the players to shine in an impressive Welsh run. On the back of the tournament, Priestland was front runner for the Lions tour, but wavering form cast doubt on his place before injury ended any hoping of making the trip down under.

The Scarlets medical staff may have access to George's Marvellous Medicine or some other elixir though, because Priestland looks ready to take the world on if given the opportunity.

Another Rhys, this time Patchell, will want his shot too. Patchell has been a bright light in the often gloomy world of the Cardiff Blues. It's not just the shock of ginger that has stood out at the Arms Park, but also the composed head it rests upon.

Patchell's talent is clear and his physique also fits Gatland's blueprint for monsters of men who could salsa dance on a shilling.

Footwork is James Hook's strong point and he finds himself in the squad alongside messers Biggar, Priestland and Patchell. Had Gavin Henson taken a few pointers from Hooky he would have had Strictly sewn up and Len Goodman lost for words.

Hook himself has never lived up to the 'next Barry John' tag line though (not that anybody ever could). He is great when given room to manoeuvre, but the modern day fly half isn't about waltzing past defenders or pirouetting out of tackles. These days a 10 is an orchestrator and conductor, where as Hook has a tendency to become a flute solo.

Hook has also suffered the same fate as Biggar, dropped back to cover 15 having spent much of his career playing second fiddle.

Newport-Gwent Dragons are the only region without a representative at outside half, and for that, Jason Tovey can consider himself unlucky. After his short spell at the Blues proved an undoubted failure, Tovey has rediscovered his form at Rodney Parade alongside an equally revitalised Ritchie Rees.

Tovey may be forced to await injury or bad form to get his chance, whilst Sam Davies, Steven Shingler and maybe even Jordan Williams await a little more experience of playing 10 at senior level.

Perhaps the most welcoming note (or scariest for the opposition) is just how young these players are. Nobody mentioned above is over 30 and only Priestland and Hook are over 25. The average age of the 9 players mentioned is under 23 and the four selected in Gatland's squad average 24.5, but already have over 100 caps between them.

So, those wheels are still turning quickly and there's a whole line of trams on the rails, as that little factory 'neath the mountain keeps making outside halves for Wales.
10 Out of 10 - Paolo Nutini

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