Competition for place in Wales backrow is ‘crazy’, says Justin Tipuric
Flanker braced for tough battle against Australia’s Michael Hooper and David Pocock
Wales’ Justin Tipuric in action against Ben Toolis of Scotland during their 21-10 victory last weekend in Cardiff. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Justin Tipuric can see no let-up in what he describes as the “crazy” competition for backrow places in the Wales team.
Wales’ revered backrow strength is underlined by twice British and Irish Lions tourist Tipuric winning just over half of his 58 caps as a substitute. And even though retired former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton is no longer part of the selection mix, head coach Warren Gatland remains spoilt for choice.
Wales’ likely starting backrow against Australia on Saturday – Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and Ross Moriarty – are all Lions. Injuries, meanwhile, have currently sidelined a fourth Lion in Taulupe Faletau, plus three of last season’s outstanding Wales performers in Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler and James Davies.
And when players such as Ellis Jenkins, who skippered Wales to victory against South Africa earlier this year, young Dragons prospect Aaron Wainwright, plus Thomas Young and Ollie Griffiths – the latter pair did not make Gatland’s autumn Test squad – are added, then the cupboard is close to bursting point.
Even 10 months out from the World Cup, backrow looks set to be the most debated area in selection before Gatland settles on his final group for Japan. “I’ve said for a number of years that the competition in the backrow is crazy,” Ospreys flanker Tipuric said. “Everyone seems to want to be a backrow forward these days. It is a position that is very strong for Wales.
“There are three or four choices in every position throughout the squad now, and there is more competition coming through again – it’s not like it is drying up or anything. Welsh rugby is in a good place.”
Tipuric is set to make his 29th Wales start this weekend, and his battle with Australia’s significant twin breakdown threat of Michael Hooper and David Pocock should go some way towards deciding the outcome. And a Wales victory would be timely, given that they have not achieved it against Australia for 10 years and 13 Tests, while it is also the countries’ final meeting before a key World Cup pool clash next September. Tipuric has encountered Hooper and Pocock on several occasions, and respect is mutual.
“There are two of the best sevens in the world playing in the same pack, so you are going to be in a tough game,” Tipuric added. “They are quality opposition, two of Australia’s best players, without doubt.” And Pocock said: “I rate him [Tipuric]. He gets through a lot of work and his timing is really good.
“The way the game is played these days, the breakdown is a big part of it. Attacks are trying to get quick ball into dangerous attacking players’ hands, and defences are looking to either turn it over or slow it down.”
As ever, Tipuric will relish the challenge, and also enjoy another opportunity to test himself in international rugby’s unforgiving environment.
“In international rugby, you know how lucky you are and how few chances you have to put that Welsh jersey on,” he said. “Every time you play, it could be your last, whether through injury or selection. You have got to try and and enjoy it, and I play rugby with a smile on my face.
“I think you have always got to tinker with your game. Teams find you out, and you have got to keep adding different things and working on different things all the time. You can’t stand still – otherwise you will be left behind.”