Warren Gatland has 48 hopefuls left in his Rugby World Cup training squad, with 46 of those trying to impress in the high altitude Switzerland training camp this week.
The Wales management will push the players to the limit in a bid to get them in peak physical condition by the time they land in France this September. Upon returning to Wales, Gatland is expected to cut around 10 players from his squad ahead of their second training camp in Turkey, which starts on July 23.
Given every nation will be restricted to 33 players at the World Cup, Gatland will have to carefully consider the balance of his squad especially the split between backs and forwards. It goes without saying the playing group will be very keen to impress in Fiesch in order to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
WalesOnline take a look at the tough decisions Gatland will have to make over the coming weeks.
One would expect Gatland to cut down the number of back-three players in the squad after they return home from Switzerland. It would come as a massive shock if Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams and Josh Adams weren’t in his final World Cup squad.
Alex Cuthbert is missing the trip to Fiesch for personal reasons, and while this may count against him, Gatland has always been a big fan of the giant winger and knows what he can offer the side. Dragons speedster Rio Dyer was a bright spark in a difficult 2022/23 season, and is a serious contender to make the final squad.
While prolific goal kicker Leigh Halfpenny has been a mainstay of Gatland’s Wales sides since make his test debut in 2009, there are those who question whether he still has what it takes at the age of 34, and a gruelling training camp in Switzerland will go a long way to providing the answer to that question.
Gatland is not afraid to take a punt on young inexperienced players but it’s likely to be talented Scarlets back-three man Tom Rogers, and Ospreys utility-back Cai Evans who are most in danger of the chop.
The midfield will surely be an area of concern for Gatland with the World Cup a mere two months away.
In 2011 and 2015 Wales had experienced pair Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, who had played a significant amount of Test rugby, while they also had a telepathic understanding of each other. It was the same in 2019 when Davies was partnered with his then Scarlets team-mate Hadleigh Parkes.
There is a huge amount of inexperience in his midfield, and Gatland will have no choice but to throw some players in at the deep end. George North, who can also cover the back-three, and Nick Tompkins will likely be safe while Scarlets star Johnny Williams is a player who fits perfectly into the style of play Gatland wants to play.
One would expect Gatland to hang on to Mason Grady who has credit in the bank after making a credible start to his international career during the Six Nations. You’d expect at least two centres to drop out after this camp but it’s difficult to identify who, with uncapped trio Keiran Williams, Joe Roberts, and Max Llewellyn all untested at the highest level.
It is hard to see Gatland dropping experienced pair Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe, while Owen Williams is sitting out the camp in Switzerland for personal reasons, and is expected to join the squad at a later date.
It seems the onus is on Scarlets playmaker Sam Costelow to impress in Switzerland. The 22-year-old is one of the brightest prospects in Welsh rugby and was outstanding for the Scarlets during the second-half of last season.
Costelow has a well-rounded game with his decision-making under pressure a real plus point, but it remains to be seen whether Gatland retains four outside-halves for the trip to Turkey. It’s a matter of time before Costelow becomes a regular in this Wales team but the question is whether the World Cup has come too early for him or not.
Following the international retirement of Rhys Webb, Gatland only has three scrum-halves in his squad. While the New Zealander is pondering whether to gamble by only taking two number nines to France this autumn, he will surely retain Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, and Tomos Williams for at least a little while longer.
There will almost certainly be some casualties in the front-row after Switzerland. Gatland will likely want to retain at least three tight-heads with Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis, and Montpellier’s former England international Henry Thomas in the driving seat.
The New Zealander has also recently singled out uncapped Cardiff tighthead Keiron Assiratti for praise meaning he has a tough decision to make in this area. Following Rhys Carre’s shock exit from the squad last month, experienced Ospreys looseheads Nicky Smith and Gareth Thomas are clear front runners for a place in the final squad.
It is very likely uncapped duo Corey Domachowski and Kemsley Mathias are fighting for a spot on the plane to France, meaning training well in Switzerland will be of extra importance to those two. Hooker is a more straightforward position with Dewi Lake in a strong position to become first choice in this area following Ken Owens’ withdrawal from the squad due to injury.
One of Ryan Elias, Elliot Dee, or Sam Parry could be cut from the squad upon returning to Wales, meaning the stakes are very high for them.
Both Adam Beard and Will Rowlands are close to being nailed on for the final World Cup squad but who joins them on the plane to France is less certain.
Exeter Chiefs lock Dafydd Jenkins impressed during the Six Nations, and the talk is the Welsh management like his work ethic in training, making it unlikely he will be cut before Turkey. Dragons lock Ben Carter, who fell out of favour last season, the uncapped Teddy Williams, and Ospreys enforcer Rhys Davies will be desperate to impress in Switzerland.
Both Christ Tshiunza and Taine Plumtree can also play lock, and one would expect Gatland to cut at least one player at second-row after Switzerland.
Taulupe Faletau is the first name on the team sheet so his place is as good as safe but in the main Gatland has got some tough decisions to make in the back-row.
In 2019 the New Zealander took six back-rowers to Japan, and it’ll be interesting to see if he does the same again. With proven test performers Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, and Josh Navidi out of the equation there is scope for an unproven player to make a name for himself.
For years Gatland has wanted a player with the right blend of athleticism and physicality to cover the back-five of the scrum which is why he has called up new Scarlets signing Taine Plumtree before he has even played a game on Welsh soil. It is likely Plumtree will be vying with Christ Tshiunza for a place, and given he can only select 33 players, versatility will play a big part in his final selection.
Injury has already ruled out Josh Macleod so Gatland is in need of someone who can cover No 8 if Faletau succumbs to injury at any point, meaning both Aaron Wainwright and Taine Basham could be fighting over one position. Historically, Gatland has been a huge fan of Dan Lydiate but given he is an out and out blindside, the 35-year-old will have to prove he is decisively better than other options in the squad while Jac Morgan and Tommy Reffell are both in credit due to their performances over the last few seasons.