Warren Gatland: Wales coach searching for playmaker centre

Rhys Priestland and Dan Biggar
Rhys Priestland's form with Bath has earned a Wales recall and he comes into contention alongside Dan Biggar
Autumn internationals
Dates: 11 Nov-2 Dec Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Opponents: Australia, Georgia, New Zealand, South Africa
Coverage: Live on BBC One or BBC Two Wales & S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Wales coach Warren Gatland wants to use the autumn internationals to experiment with a more creative combination at fly-half and inside centre.

The New Zealander has been criticised in the past for preferring a game-plan that relied on direct, powerful runners such as Jamie Roberts at 12.

But Gatland feels he now has players who can adopt a more expansive style.

"I have had a chat with [backs coach] Rob Howley about the 10/12 combination and what that's likely to be," he said.

"I am hoping we have the type of player.

Wales 2017 autumn Tests, TV coverage
Sat, 11 Nov (17:15 GMT)Wales v AustraliaBBC Two Wales
Sat, 18 Nov (14:30 GMT)Wales v GeorgiaBBC One Wales
Sat, 25 Nov (17:15 GMT)Wales v New ZealandBBC Two Wales
Sat, 2 Dec (14:30 GMT)Wales v South AfricaBBC One Wales

"You have to have that person who can play with the speed of ball. I don't think we have always had that individual.

"We have had individuals who can perform a certain way that has been good for us and get across the gain line and get quick ball."

Wales' direct approach for the majority of Gatland's reign was dubbed 'Warrenball' by former London Irish and England coach Brian Smith.

But Gatland silenced his critics after coaching the 2017 British and Irish Lions to a series draw in New Zealand, playing a thrilling brand of rugby in the Tests that revolved around the pairing of England's Owen Farrell and Ireland's Johnny Sexton.

Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton
Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton combined as a potent 10/12 combination for the Lions in New Zealand

Dan Biggar, who earned praise in New Zealand as the Lions' midweek fly-half, remains Wales' leading number 10.

But Grand Slam winner Rhys Priestland, whose form for Bath has earned a recall for the first time since June 2016, Scarlets' Rhys Patchell and Owen Williams of Gloucester all come into contention for the 10/12 axis.

A sign of Gatland's new emphasis has resulted in Roberts and Scott Williams being left out of the initial squad for the autumn series, although Williams has since been recalled after an injury to Tyler Morgan.

"We are going to be looking at that over the next few weeks and it worked with the Lions because you had Farrell and Sexton who are both world class," Gatland added.

"I know Owen Williams has played a bit at 12 and a bit at 10 and a conversation with Aaron Mauger [the ex-All Black who played with Williams at Leicester] last year he felt he was a 12.

"Sometimes it is a huge benefit if players have played both positions; [Dragons, Wales and Lions back Gavin] Henson played 10 and 12, Farrell likewise.

Owen Williams
Once-capped Wales back Owen Williams joined Gloucester from Leicester before the 2017-18 season

"We have had the discussion about whether Patchell could fill that role; he is playing quite flat and doing a good job for the Scarlets from an attacking perspective.

"We will look at combinations and put the players under pressure in terms of decision-making.

"Training is one thing, but there is nothing like a game, particularly first-up against Australia.

"We could look at another combination for the second game against Georgia depending on how the first game goes and who else we want to look at."

Wales' opening match against the Wallabies is on 11 November, followed by Tests against Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.


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