Parkes, Watkin at centre of new-look Wales


For all the talk surrounding Wales’ new selection policy over the past week, Warren Gatland opted to pick only four players caught by the previous law for his side’s autumn campaign.

Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams and Owen Williams join Tomas Francis — who was exempt from “Gatland’s Law” — in the squad for games against Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.

George North and Ross Moriarty would have added to that number had they been fit, but despite the noise of the past fortnight, the interest in this selection does not lie with those who ply their trade on the other side of the Severn Bridge.

There are as many uncapped players in the squad as Premiership stars, but there is no place for Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin as he recovers from his recent encounter with a lion.

The absence of captain Sam Warburton and Moriarty, meanwhile, has given opportunity to Sam Cross, Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler to lay down a marker in the back row this autumn.

But the biggest talking point comes in midfield where Hadleigh Parkes has been rewarded for a fine start to the season with the Scarlets, and is included alongside former Wales under-20 star Owen Watkin.

Parkes’ inclusion is a considerable show of faith by Gatland, considering the New Zealand-born Scarlets centre does not qualify for his adopted country until Dec. 1.

That means he is only eligible for the final autumn game, against South Africa a day later, but the Wales coach has decided to employ a similar tactic to one that Joe Schmidt has used with Ireland, giving Parkes a taste of life inside the camp while his paperwork is finalised.

Such experience could prove invaluable to the centre’s chances of hitting the ground running in a Wales shirt but it is a call that has come with some high-profile collateral.

Jamie Roberts led Wales on their summer tour and has looked back to somewhere near his best for Harlequins this season. That, however, has not been deemed good enough.

The biggest casualty of Parkes’ inclusion, though, is his Scarlets teammate Scott Williams. The pair have shared the No. 12 shirt in west Wales this term, but the former Super Rugby player appears to have edged ahead of his 48-cap colleague.

It is tough on Williams, who has never put a foot wrong for Gatland or Wales, but the Kiwi coach cannot be accused of picking on anything other than form in this instance; something Welsh fans have been hungry for in the past.

With Parkes not eligible until December and Roberts and Scott Williams left at home, Watkin has a huge opportunity to put down a marker in the No. 12 shirt.

The young centre, 21, has been nursed back onto the pitch by the Ospreys following a serious knee injury that kept him out of the entire 2016-17 season. He was playing Premiership rugby for Bridgend as recently as Sep. 20.

However, Watkin has long been highly thought of in the Wales set-up and a couple of blockbuster performances for the Ospreys in the Champions Cup against Clermont and Saracens have elevated him into the senior squad for the first time.

On paper, it would seem that Watkin is the only out-and-out inside-centre — other than Parkes — included in the 36-man squad. However, Owen Williams can easily cover 12 and Gatland may opt to use the Gloucester playmaker, or Rhys Priestland, as a ‘second’ fly-half alongside Dan Biggar against the Wallabies.

That would certainly be a safe bet given Watkin’s lack of game time at the top level this season, but if he does see some action this November then Parkes – not to mention Roberts and Scott Williams – might find it hard to wrestle the No. 12 jersey off him.