On the face of it, Wales coach Wayne Pivac is spoiled for choice when it comes to back-row options for the Six Nations, given the number of contenders.
But, according to former Test star Emir Lewis, there is a problem situation: the blindside flanker.
He is worried about the lack of specialist 6s, with Josh Navidi, Ross Moriarty and Dan Lydit all injured.
Alice Jenkins did a stellar job covering the role during the autumn after a three-year break from international rugby following a terrible knee injury, but she spent the bulk of her career on openside.
Lewis, who won 41 caps in the 1990 Welsh back-row, feels Pivac faces some dilemma over what to do at No. 6 in February’s championship opener against a powerful Ireland team in Dublin.
“It’s a difficult spot to fill,” said the former Lanali and Cardiff breakaway.
“You haven’t really got as many players as you think you have. A lot of them are 7s or 6 and a half.
“I like James Botham, but again he’s 6 and a half and naturally 7.
“I was infatuated with Christ Tshunza when I arrived during autumn. I was thinking ‘Flipping heck, that’s gonna be good’.
“This guy was hitting people. He wasn’t moving anything. But starting against Ireland will be a big challenge for him. He’s probably got the best back row in Europe, if not world rugby.
“You could have played Toulupe Falletto at 6, but I don’t want to replace him with number 8, I have to be honest with you.
“I want someone at 8 who is used to going back. I hope we don’t go back, but you have to think about that eventuality. So you need someone who is very fast off base.” Ho and can move the ball in and out and it goes.
“You have to have an out-and-out No. 8 and the one that fits the bill more than anyone else is Fateau. I guess if he’s fit, he’s stuck there.
“So I’d be tempted to move Aaron Wainwright back to 6. There’s no one else when you really think about it.
“Only another out-and-out 6 Test can fill up with a good amount of Aaron Shingler experience and he hasn’t played much rugby in the last few years.”
Pivac is trying to convert Wainwright from blindside to No.8, but having played in both positions, Lewis feels it’s easier said than done.
“You can go from 8 to 6 relatively easily,” he said.
“But it’s very difficult to do it the other way around. Now that’s what they’re asking Wainwright to do.”
“He’s got to play regularly at the regional level, with about 30 to 40 games under his belt, to get used to his position.
“The biggest thing is controlling the ball in scrum, knowing when to pick it up and making the right decisions.
“Morgan Morris has probably been the best No. 8 in Wales this season. I love that. He’s a class on the feet. But it’s going to be a big challenge to put him up against Ireland again.”
“So I guess he’ll have to go with Falto at 8 and then Wainwright has to go with him.”
The potential issue is that the 86-time capped Fattau has not played since last summer’s tour of South Africa with Bath after suffering an ankle injury, although his club is expected to return to the field before the Six Nations. does.
“Getting him back fit will be a big boost for Wales,” Lewis said.
“I have never played against anyone like him. In my days it was bish-bash-bosh.
“It was just picked up from base and had to go for it.
“He’s not a quinnel, he’s just not one to run through people. What he does is he uses sharp legs and just changes the way he runs and he has those silky skills.”
So if it’s Wainwright and Fallato on 6 and 8, that completes the back row, given a host of opensides vying for selection?
“It’s tough, but if Justin Tipurik is fit, I can’t see him go out,” Lewis said.
“If I were the coach, I would start with him and then bring Tain Basham off the bench for his explosiveness.
Basham is raw talent. He likes to run with the ball, he is aggressive.
“But how on earth do you leave Tipurik? You can’t. He is one of the most naturally gifted forwards Wales has ever produced.
“He understands the game, he is very quick and has put in some effort over the years which has been fantastic.”
Lewis, a seasoned pundit on TV and radio, also feels that Tipurik really matches up effectively with Fleteau, as demonstrated by his double act during last season’s Six Nations title win. You can read more about their effective combination here.
“They’re coming forward in close channels, big guys who want to break you,” he said.
“But if you play different angles at them, they are very slow to adapt and that is what Tipuric and Falletto did last season. He was really, really good at it.
“So for me, it’s Wainwright, Fallato and Tipurick to start in Dublin.
“This year’s Six Nations is going to be really tough. We’ve seen how well France, England and Ireland are playing.
“I think you need an established back row with loads of weight and experience. You have to think about the fact that Alun Wynn won’t even be there.
“You have to go for the experience, as much as I love Basham.
“That back line has heaps of experience and the lineout offers loads of options as well.
“Then I’ll have Basham’s mobility off the bench, along with Seb Davis at 23, covering both the second row and the back row.”
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