The first surprise came with the timing of Wales’ team announcement for the game against Fiji, 48 hours early, with hacks who’d been settling in for a leisurely day suddenly forced to hastily rethink their plans.

It’s a hard life.

Anyway, the second minor eyebrow-raiser came with head coach Wayne Pivac resisting the opportunity to make wholesale changes to his side, with the Test against a so-called second-tier nation traditionally being the one where the selectors comes up with a radical team that offers starting opportunities to multiple figures who’ve been on the fringes over the previous weeks of a campaign.

There are some significant alterations, but Pivac has largely stuck with the same pack that faced South Africa last weekend and there’s experience behind in the shape of Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert and Josh Adams.

A couple of positional changes add to an interesting pick, though.

MARK ORDERS looks at the selection highlights.

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It’s been a long time…

Welcome back, Alex Charles Gordon Cuthbert.

Four years after his last cap, the 31-year-old Test Lions returns to the Wales team, with Wayne Pivac evidently like what he has seen in training and in the two games he has played for the Ospreys this season.

Cuthbert said himself before his Ospreys debut that he felt he had matured as a player and as a person during the three seasons he spent with Exeter Chiefs.

But even he might have been surprised at the speed at which he has made it back into the Wales starting line-up.

His outings for the Ospreys have both been noteworthy, mind.

The first one saw him pull off one of the tackles of the season to deny Benetton’s Monty Ioane what had appeared a certain try, with Cuthbert tearing across field to bring the Italy international down at the flag.

The following week, the scorer of 17 tries in 48 internationals hugely impacted the United Rugby Championship game against Munster, with a double-figure number of carries, several catches of high balls and strong defensive work.

He has also made a mark off the field in his new surroundings.

Gone is the disgruntled and frustrated figure who left Welsh rugby amid stinging criticism, much of it unfair. In his place, the 2021 Cuthbert is relaxed and positive, better able to keep things in perspective, impressing at the press conference he gave before his Ospreys debut. A regional source told this writer: “Alex is shaping up to be a great signing for the Ospreys.

“He’s popular with the boys and as relaxed as they come. His time over the border seems to have worked wonders. After three years away, he’s older and wiser and has shown he can still deliver.”

Now he’s back on the right wing for Wales after a late call-up to the squad.

He will bring experience, finishing ability and maturity.

It would take a hard heart not to wish him well.

Adams on the move

Wayne Pivac marked World Science Day with an experiment, then, which has seen Josh Adams picked to start a Test in the centre for the first time in his international career.

He has featured there before during Tests, notably against the Barbarians in Wayne Pivac’s first game in charge of Wales and last week against South Africa when he figured there against South Africa after Jonathan Davies was subbed on the hour.

But all his appearances in run-on Wales sides until now have been on the wing.

Adams has previously shown his versatility at club level, with his performances at full-back for Worcester Warriors particularly notable.

Quick and powerful, he could add penetration to the Wales backline by moving infield. Pivac is likely to be casting an eye to the World Cup, too, with players who can cover several positions providing added value.

Quite what it means for Jonathan Davies is unclear.

He captained Wales last weekend before being taken off as the match was coming to the boil.

Now he’s out of the side completely, with Pivac’s taking the chance to have a look at Adams at 13.

Much the same applies to Willis Halaholo, though he missed 10 days training after testing positive for Covid before the New Zealand game.

The new boy on the bench

That would be Christ Tshiunza.

Four weeks ago he was playing for Exeter University against Cardiff University in a BUCS Super Rugby clash in Devon.

Now he’s poised for his Wales debut at the age of 19.

Again, Pivac is looking to the future.

A hybrid player who can operate at lock and blindside flanker, the 6ft 6in forward has trained well since coming into the squad and is seen as a big prospect by the head coach.

He showed up well in flashes for Wales during the U20s Six Nations in the summer, proving a strong carrier, a hard-hitter in defence and packing a presence at the breakdown.

With the likes of Ben Carter, Bradley Roberts, Ben Thomas and Taine Basham, he is part of Wales’ new wave of players.

Pivac hasn’t made the mistake of throwing Tshiunza into a much-changed pack, either, with seven forwards retained as starters from the game with South Africa.

The coach will hope to introduce his new boy amid relative calm sometime after the break.

That’s the idea, anyway.

Front-row thinking

Not so long ago Wyn Jones was running onto the field as a Lions Test starter.

Now he’s benched for Wales behind a 23-year-old who still has question marks over his scrummaging against the very best.

But Wales appear to like Rhys Carre.

They enjoy his industry around the field and the potential he offers.

The Welsh scrum may have been steamrollered by South Africa last weekend but, really, matters didn’t improve when Jones came onto the field: the set-piece was a disaster area whoever was wearing a red jersey.

Fiji should be a good opportunity for Carre.

They are not a renowned scrummaging team and there should be a chance for the youngster to show up strongly around the field. At 6ft 3in and 20st 4lb, according to the WRU’s website, he is a handful to stop on the charge and he works hard at the breakdown.

Jones will just have to restore his game to the levels witnessed during the last Six Nations, when he was arguably the best loosehead in the tournament. Pivac’s comments about Jones’ current fitness perhaps being short of that required for international rugby will certainly spark a reaction.

On the other side of the scrum, it’s another chance for Tomas Francis, though not without a veiled warning from Pivac that he, too, needs to improve after coughing up three penalties against South Africa.

Reputations, then, are counting for only so much in the front row.

Places for the Australia game a week later are there to be won.

A fresh nine

Gareth Davies could have been forgiven for hoping for a start at nine, having featured off the bench in Wales’ two previous games this autumn.

But it wasn’t to be.

Instead, Pivac has handed Kieran Hardy a chance to show what he can do, challenging him to repeat his performance against England in the Six Nations earlier this year.

The Scarlet performed patchily during the opening batch of United Rugby Championship matches, but Wales’ head coach is a fan and he will be looking for the quick and elusive Hardy to put a stamp on proceedings.

Tomos Williams seems to be out in front of the other nines in the squad.

But this is Hardy’s opportunity to make a statement.

He needs to take it.

Basham at No. 8

Taine Basham is a three-in-one player who can play across the back row.

His moving to No. 8, where he played a fair bit of rugby in his younger days, allows Thomas Young to feature at openside flanker, with skipper Ellis Jenkins staying at blindside.

It’s a small back row, but it’s hard to imagine Wales have fielded many more skilful or mobile breakaway units.





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