Wales have a major opportunity to end their run of six games without a win when they face Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.
The poor streak is heaping pressure on head coach Wayne Pivac but the match in Llanelli will surely see Wales end their drought.
Despite making 13 changes to their run-on side, the Welsh are set to have too much for a Georgian outfit which has underwhelmed of late.
The Lelos have long been pushing for a spot at Europe’s top table but recent games have seen them lose heavily to Scotland and England. That has possibly led Pivac to feel that mass alterations won’t prove too costly at Parc y Scarlets this weekend. In fact this line-up looks exciting, fresh and likely to impress.
The backline in particular seems full of promise and we’re hugely excited to see it unleashed, with scrum-half Kieran Hardy and centre Johnny Williams earning first caps. Callum Sheedy is rewarded for his Bristol Bears form, while Nick Tompkins, Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny McNicholl and Liam Williams should cut loose.
Bright international future
But the story of the team announcement was the inclusion of Sir Ian Botham’s grandson, James, at flanker, despite playing just 13 professional games. Pivac is adamant the debut is warranted and predicts a bright international future for the Cardiff Blues back-row forward, labelling him “a very balanced rugby player”.
It is a wonderful chance for these aforementioned players to press their case for regular selection after the recent woes, so expect the Welsh to adopt a fast-paced style that keeps Georgia’s pack on the move. If they recapture their confidence then it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for both coach and players.
“The pressure comes internally,” admitted Pivac, who has overseen just two wins from eight games since succeeding Warren Gatland as Wales boss just a year ago.
“Certainly, we understand that results are what people want to see, and we want to see those ourselves. The guys will be out there very determined to not only win the game, but put in a very good performance. At the moment, we have been our own worst enemies. We are giving teams far too much possession and territory.
“It’s focusing on eliminating mistakes, working hard in training and making good decisions,” he concluded ahead of a crucial day in his Wales coaching tenure.
Players to watch:
For Wales: There’s plenty of talent to pick from here but we settle on fly-half Callum Sheedy, who will be relishing this chance in the 10 shirt. With Dan Biggar struggling for form and Gareth Anscombe on the sidelines, there is an opening the Bristolian can exploit here and, if he can replicate his game at club level and use the ample ball he should receive well, he could have a field day, with those talented backs outside him all equally determined to shine. Indeed we are looking forward to seeing another Premiership star, Louis Rees-Zammit, in the red jersey and don’t be surprised if he crosses on Saturday.
Louis Rees-Zammit was sensational last season, and at just 19, it's pretty terrifying to think he can only get better 🔥
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 17, 2020
For Georgia: Five changes to the side that lost to England includes the return of second-row Kote Mikautadze, who wins his 65th cap this weekend. They will need the now Bayonne player’s experience and also the likes of scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze, hooker Jaba Bregvadze and veteran wing Sandro Todua to drag them up to an acceptable showing, as a third successive heavy loss would be a major step backwards for a team so keen to prove they belong at this level.
Head-to-head: It’s good to see Elliot Dee back in the Wales starting line-up at hooker as he has shown plenty of promise for the Dragons and his country when given an opportunity. He will go up against the vastly experienced Jaba Bregvadze at Parc y Scarlets in what should be a fascinating clash between two solid operators. The well-travelled Georgian will know that winning this personal battle at hooker would set a vital tone up front but he’ll have a tough job against the Welsh number two. Dee is incredibly mobile, while also being strong at the set-piece, and knows that this is his big chance to nail down the jersey.
2019: Wales won 43-14 in Aichi
2017: Wales won 13-6 in Cardiff
Prediction: The rot will end for Wales against Georgia on Saturday and it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for the team. Wales by 30 points!
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Justin Tipuric (c), 6 James Botham, 5 Seb Davies, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Davies, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Jonah Holmes
Georgia: 15 Lasha Khmaladze, 14 Akaki Tabutsadze, 13 Giorgi Kveseladze, 12 Merab Sharikadze (c), 11 Sandro Todua, 10 Tedo Abzhandadze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Beka Gorgadze, 7 Beka Saginadze, 6 Otar Giorgadze, 5 Kote Mikautadze, 4 Grigor Kerdikoshvili, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Giorgi Chkoidze, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Lexo Kaulashvili, 19 Lasha Jaiani, 20 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 21 Gela Aprasidze, 22 Demur Tapladze, 23 Tamaz Mchedlidze
Date: Saturday, November 21
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace, Frank Murphy
Television match official: Joy Neville