Pre-season is well and truly underway and, believe it or not, the new season is appearing on the horizon.
Eight weeks have passed since Wales completed an impressive clean sweep on their tour of America and Argentina in June, beating South Africa and Argentina twice.
As we head into the World Cup season, Gatland suddenly has a number of different options available to him.
After the final Test in Santa Fe, the head coach said they would treat the autumn block of internationals as a ‘conditioning campaign’, forming part of his plan ahead of the global showpiece.
Welsh rugby news
Whether that refers to the players simply doing more running in training or if it will mean he experiments a bit more with his gameplan or team selection remains to be seen.
But here are the different teams he could pick…
THE PRAGMATIC APPROACH
Halfpenny; L Williams, J Davies, Parkes, North; Biggar, G Davies; Evans, Owens, Lee; Hill, Jones; Moriarty, Jenkins, Faletau.
A squad that is picked to contain, unlikely to make many mistakes and grind down the opposition.
Leigh Halfpenny is crucial in this because he applies scoreboard pressure and the opposition know that infringing in their own half will result in three points for Wales.
It’s not a team that will throw caution to the wind all too often but there is flair and ingenuity in the three-quarter line.
Dan Biggar is the face of this approach and that’s not a slight on him in anyway. He is more of a general than the others competing for the jersey.
The former Osprey moves the team around the field better than most and will put them in the right areas with his right peg. He may not be scything through gaps or throwing multiple offloads but there is more than one way to skin a cat.
The front five has plenty of grunt and you’d back it to be the most reliable Wales could pick when it comes to the set piece.
As for the back row, you’ve got three quality defenders, good ball-carriers in their own rights and enough cunning in there to cause problems at the breakdown.
This is Gatland’s most likely approach to the big games.
THE EXPANSIVE APPROACH
Amos; L Williams, J Davies, Parkes, Evans; Patchell, G Davies; Evans, Dee, Lewis; S Davies, Jones; Tipuric, J Davies, Faletau.
It’s been well-documented that Halfpenny is battling to rediscover the counter-attacking flair of 2013 which is why you’d probably look elsewhere for this approach.
It would then be down to either Liam Williams or Hallam Amos. Gatland may edge towards the Dragons man because that’s the position he’s expected to be filling more often than not at Rodney Parade next season.
He also had a good summer tour there and is well-suited to that position.
Many would like to see Williams there, and they have good reason for that, but he’s likely to be spending most of his time on the wing at Saracens next term.
Rhys Patchell would come in at 10 and you saw in the summer how he got the backline firing in Argentina, scoring some brilliant tries.
Playing regularly in a Scarlets side that are as entertaining as any will stand him in good stead and he’s not afraid to challenge defenders or fire wide passes. He’ll take risks.
A more dynamic and ball-handling front five are complimented by a fast, skillful and expansive back row that includes the mercurial Justin Tipuric, Olympic Sevens star James Davies and the brilliant Taulupe Faletau.
This may be the kind of approach that Gatland is tempted to take against Scotland in the opener, or perhaps Tonga.
THE YOUTHFUL APPROACH
Adams; Lane, S Williams, Watkin, Evans; Patchell, T Williams; Smith, Dee, Brown; Hill, Beard; Jenkins, J Davies, Moriarty.
Gatland will have learned a lot about his young guns over the summer and should have no qualms with experimenting a little bit against someone like Tonga.
This team aren’t carrying any baggage and will have no fear.
A Wales team missing their British and Irish Lions beat the Pacific Islanders in terrible conditions in Auckland in 2017 so there should be no fear of a morale-sapping defeat.
More often than not, you’d expect to see Josh Adams play on the wing for Wales despite him being very capable at full-back.
But you could move him there in this instance to make room for the other exciting wingers, with Owen Lane worth a punt after missing out what would have surely been a summer call-up due to injury.
There are splashes of experience throughout in the form of Scott Williams, Nicky Smith, Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty, who are always required. Sending out a totally inexperienced side is never advisable.
Osprey Owen Watkin would likely get another chance to show his worth after a mixed summer with Gatland desperately searching for competition to push Hadleigh Parkes.
Livewire Tomos Williams will almost certainly be given another run after a standout summer tour and the same goes for Adam Beard.
Don’t be surprised to see this approach against Tonga.
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