Next Welsh-qualified rugby players in England being monitored by Wales

2 months ago 8

With the Six Nations just nine weeks away, Warren Gatland will be busy putting together a squad he feels can not only compete in the short-term but take Wales through to the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

The New Zealander has already heavily inferred he will give youth an opportunity over the next couple of years, with a handful of senior players coming to the end of their careers. Gatland has also always noted Wales' limited player pool in comparison to most other Tier one nations and therefore he may have to think outside the box.

The Welsh Rugby Union's Exiles programme might be leaned upon heavily by Gatland in order to enrich Wales' talent pool. Back in 2020 former Wales head coach Wayne Pivac raised a few eyebrows when he selected English-based Welsh qualified players such as Will Rowlands and Nick Tompkins, while Gatland selected former England international Henry Thomas out of nowhere for his World Cup squad.

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It remains to be seen whether there'll be any similar shocks this time but rugby correspondent Steffan Thomas runs the rule over a the Welsh-qualified players based outside of Wales Gatland may be keeping a close eye on.

Archie Griffin

Tighthead prop is not an area of great strength in Wales with a lack of depth behind Tomas Francis who is now plying his trade for PRO D2 outfit Provence Rugby. Gatland also has new Harlequins signing Dillon Lewis and Montpellier's Henry Thomas to choose from, while the likes of Kieran Assiratti, Harri O'Connor, and Lloyd Fairbrother will also be on his radar.

One name who hasn't popped up much in discussion is Bath tighthead Archie Griffin. The 22-year-old was born in Australia but is Welsh-qualified through his father, and has actually represented Wales at age grade level.

Griffin first joined the Bath academy at 13, and after coming through the ranks has finally broken into the matchday squad. Griffin has made some impressive cameos off the bench for Bath, and crucially, has looked rock solid at the scrum.

Given the lack of quality scrummaging tighthead's at Gatland's disposal, Griffin, who is 6ft 3in and nearly 20st, must surely be looked at closely.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso

The Exeter Chiefs wing is reportedly on Gatland's radar and is a serious contender to make Wales' Six Nations squad, although he also qualifies to play for England. Exeter are currently in transition mode with a host of big name players having left to ply their trades elsewhere forcing director of rugby Rob Baxter to put his faith in youth.

And Feyi-Waboso is one of the players who has really shone for the Chiefs in the early part of the Gallagher Premiership season. The 20-year-old wing, who can also play centre, is establishing a reputation as one of the deadliest finishers in the English game, and also has bags of pace.

Feyi-Waboso signed his first senior contract with Cardiff back in December 2021, initially juggling his rugby commitments with school studies at Bristol’s Clifton College. However, after failing to gain a place at Cardiff University, he headed to Aston University and linked up with the senior Wasps academy as a result.

After Wasps collapsed, he was picked up by Exeter, and he's now making a big impact at Sandy Park. Wing is one position where Wales aren't short of quality with the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams, and Rio Dyer, among others, available to them.

But with Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny no longer available, Gatland may be forced to move either Adams, Rees-Zammit or Dyer to the number 15 jersey. Given Feyi-Waboso seems to have all the attributes to excel in Test rugby, and the fact he also qualifies for England, it would be no shock to see his name selected in Gatland's squad in February.

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Cameron Hanekom

The Blue Bulls No 8 has made a huge impact on the early rounds of the United Rugby Championship after making his senior debut against the Scarlets last month, with a player of the match performance. Hanekom represented South Africa at age grade level but is Welsh qualified, although it would be a surprise if South Africa didn't attempt to hold on to the 21-year-old.

Big, athletic, and dynamic ball carrying loose forwards are in short supply in Welsh rugby so it would be a big surprise if Wales weren't keeping a close eye on the Bulls man. With Taulupe Faletau approaching the final stanza of his career, Gatland will no doubt already be searching for a long-term replacement.

Hanekom is rough around the edges having only played a handful of games at senior level but his ceiling is high with his explosive ball carrying and raw physicality a big plus point. It may well be Hanekom would rather play for South Africa but the Springboks have outrageous depth in the back-row, and his route to international rugby would be quickened if he threw his lot in with Wales.

He is probably more likely to come into the equation for Wales' summer tour of Australia, but stranger things have happened.

Iwan Stephens

The 21-year-old wing is a former England U20s international but is the son of former Wales outside-half Colin Stephens who famously kicked Llanelli to a victory over Australia at Stradey Park in 1992. Despite having represented England at age-grade level, Stephens obviously qualifies for Wales courtesy of his father.

Stephens is a regular starter for Newcastle, and is one of the most dangerous attacking players in the Gallagher Premiership. The elusive wing has electric pace, wicked footwork, and is a deadly finisher who can create things out of absolutely nothing.

However, Stephens is not the finished article, and needs to work on his aerial and positional play. Nevertheless, he is an exciting prospect with a very high ceiling, and could come onto Wales' radar in the near future, if he hasn't already.

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