The domestic season may be coming to an end, but with an important summer tour to come for Wales there will be much to play for this weekend in the Welsh derbies as Scarlets host Ospreys and the Dragons take on the Blues. With 12 internationals away on Lions duty as well as head coach Warren Gatland, interim coach Robin McBryde will have some decisions to make this summer with there being a number of openings for players who have been on the fringes of the national squad in recent times. Games against Tonga and Samoa will provide a good test for potential new caps to see whether they can carry regional form onto the test level, and with the World Cup just over two years away this tour represents an invaluable opportunity for the both the players and coaches to lay down an early marker for Japan 2019.
So here are some of the players who will be lining up with a point to prove this weekend.
Ollie Griffiths (Dragons)
One of the few bright spots to come out of another dismal season for the men of Gwent, 22-year-old Griffiths has put his hand up for international selection this summer with a number of eye-catching displays across the back-row. Having been slowly integrated in to the first-team set-up at Rodney Parade over the last few years, Griffiths has been a near ever-present in match-day squads this season and has arguably been his side’s best performer. A versatile option amongst the back-row having worn the 6, 7 and 8 jersey this campaign, Griffiths’ natural position is openside flanker, a position where Wales are spoilt for choice even with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric away with the Lions. Robin McBryde clearly has some decisions to make with regards to who wears the number 7 jersey this summer with the likes of Ellis Jenkins, Thomas Young and James Davies competing with Griffiths for tour selection. However with his dynamic ball-carrying, aggressive tackling and effectiveness at the breakdown McBryde could do worse than select an in-form player such as Griffiths.
Tyler Morgan (Dragons)
A young player who burst on to the scene at the 2015 World Cup where he played a significant role for his country, Tyler Morgan left that tournament with many predicting a long career in international rugby. Just over 18 months later however and the young Dragons centre has failed to add to the three international caps he earned in 2015 with injuries and a drop in form and confidence slowing his progress. Back to full fitness and with a decent run of games under his belt recently, Morgan has shown signs of returning to form showing a more purposeful and aggressive impact in both defence and attack whilst also looking back to near his best ball in hand, with his elusive running game back causing problems for opposition defences. With the 13 jersey left vacant this summer, Morgan has a great chance to reignite his international prospects with Japan 2019 approaching fast. Will relish the challenge of coming up against Halaholo and Lee-Lo in the Blues midfield today.
Rhun Williams (Blues)
In what has been another indifferent season for the Capital region, young winger Rhun Williams has caught the attention of Blues supporters despite playing just a handful of games this season. Capable of playing at full-back or wing, the 19-year-old has impressed many this season with his dazzling footwork and turn of pace, and with four tries from 11 senior appearances has displayed an accomplished strike-rate for someone in their debut season. A player who due to age and experience may be slightly down the pecking order compared to other rivals, but with Halfpenny, North and Liam Williams away on Lions duty there are spots open amongst the back three and a strong showing against the Dragons may well see him sneak into the squad.
Aaron Shingler (Scarlets)
Unlike others on this list, 29-year-old Shingler has much experience to call upon with over 100 appearances for the Scarlets as well as eight Welsh caps, although having last played for Wales in 2014 the flanker will be just as desperate as the youngsters to impress Robin McBryde this weekend. As an ever-present in a Scarlets side who have already qualified for the end-of-season play-offs, Shingler has played a crucial role throughout the season in helping guide Wayne Pivac’s young exciting side. As one of the more experienced players in the dressing room, Shingler’s leadership skills have come to the fore this campaign and with 12 Welsh internationals touring New Zealand with the Lions this summer, Shingler’s experience on tour would be invaluable. Shingler may well have slipped down the international pecking order in recent times but his athleticism and tireless work around the field make him hard to ignore, and he will be looking to get one over Wales rival James King today.
Rhys Patchell (Scarlets)
Another player whose international prospects have been resurrected this season, Scarlets fly-half Rhys Patchell will be keen to show the Wales coaches what he can offer this summer when he goes toe-to-toe with Lion Dan Biggar today. Having seen his career stall slightly at the Blues, Patchell made the decision to head West last summer and has not looked back since. A talented playmaker who likes to take the ball to the line, Patchell has been reinvigorated playing alongside the likes of Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies and Steff Evans this season, and looks back to the form that first got him recognised in his early days in Cardiff. After some impressive displays from the bench in the Six Nations, Sam Davies will surely be given the chance he deserves to wear the number 10 jersey in the two matches this summer, but Patchell’s performances this season should not go unnoticed and a big display against the Ospreys may help him steal a march on rivals Gareth Anscombe and Owen Williams.
Keelan Giles (Ospreys)
A player who is likely to be included in the Wales squad following a strong domestic season, Ospreys winger Giles has a big opportunity to put down an early marker for one of the wing positions this weekend. One of the most exciting young players about, Giles’ form has been so impressive that some people were even calling for Warren Gatland to ignore his inexperience and throw him in against New Zealand. Unsurprisingly Gatland chose against that option, and with a number of Welsh backs chosen by Gatland to tour New Zealand, Giles may well get his opportunity against Tonga and Samoa this summer. 13 tries from 17 games this season shows you why so many people are desperate to see him in a Wales shirt, with his small frame, devastating pace and agile running conjuring up memories of former Ospreys and Wales legend Shane Williams. With Scarlets’ Steff Evans likely to be his main rival for the vacant wing position, Giles will be hoping to continue his prolific try-scoring form today.