Warren Gatland has changed course tactically in his squad for Wales's four autumn internationals by including four outside-halves in his squad and omitting one of the main planks of the physical approach that delivered two Six Nations titles this decade, Jamie Roberts.
Roberts, who has won 93 caps, led Wales against Tonga and Samoa in the summer and was praised by the management for his overall contribution to the two victories that were achieved by a largely reserve team. He was dropped from the starting line-up after the opening Test last season against Australia, but his replacement, Scott Williams, has also been overlooked next month.
The decision of Gatland, Wales's head coach, to include four outside-halves, Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell, the recalled Rhys Priestland, who has impressed for Bath in the opening two months of the season, and Owen Williams gives him the option of having a playmaker at inside-centre, as he did for the Lions in the final two Tests in New Zealand in the summer when he picked Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell.
It is a ploy that Eddie Jones has used since taking over as England’s head coach after the 2015 World Cup. Wales changed their tactics last season, when Gatland was on sabbatical with the Lions, but other than relegating Roberts to the bench, tried to do so with largely the same personnel and they lost three of their matches in the Six Nations.
Owen Williams has played at 12 for Leicester and his current club Gloucester. He, along with Priestland and Patchell, have been preferred to Wales’s replacement outside-half last season, Sam Davies, whose slight frame, even with the decommissioning of Warrenball, has counted against him because he is not an option at 12.
Gatland has named five uncapped players in his 32 for the autumn internationals with New Zealand among the opponents pitching up at the Millennium Stadium.
The five include the Scarlets’ New Zealand centre, Hadleigh Parkes, who this season qualified on residency, and Ospreys’ centre Owen Watkin. Alun Wyn Jones retains the captaincy, but Gatland has shaken up his secondrows with Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies left out for Cory Hill, Seb Davies and Rory Thornton, who have nine caps between them but all impressed in the summer.
The Lions Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate have been named in the back row, expected to recover from injuries that forced them out of Ospreys’ narrow defeat at Saracens on Saturday, while their uncapped regional team-mate Sam Cross covers the vacancy left by the injured Sam Warburton. The wing George North is also unavailable, providing Alex Cuthbert with another opportunity.
It is a relatively inexperienced squad given Wales’s trust over the years in players who. have delivered. But two years out from the World Cup in Japan and after a couple of seasons of mixed results Gatland is looking at players coming through, changing faces as well as style.
Wales squad for the autumn internationals
Forwards: N Smith, R Evans, W Jones; T Francis, S Lee, L Brown; K Dacey, K Owens, E Dee; J Ball, AW Jones, S Davies, A Beard, C Hill; J Tipuric, S Cross, D Lydiate, T Faletau, A Shingler, J Navidi.
Backs: G Davies, R Webb, A Davies; D Biggar, R Patchell, R Priestland, O Williams; H Parkes, O Watkin, J Davies, T Morgan; A Cuthbert, S Evans, H Amos; L Williams, L Halfpenny.