The Welsh Rugby Union has opted to resurrect the Probables vs. Possibles trial match, which for many years was an annual fixture in Welsh rugby.
The supposed trial match will take place at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Friday May 30th, with the Probables coached by Wales attack coach Rob Howley, and the Possibles by Welsh forwards coach Robin McBryde.
The omission that seems the strangest is that of Ospreys flanker Sam Lewis. Despite being uncapped, Lewis has been outstanding for the Swansea based region this campaign, with his work at the breakdown proving invaluable.
Almost naturally the selection that has caused the most debate has been that of former Welsh rugby golden boy Gavin Henson, who has been selected in the Probables squad after being in the international wilderness since 2011.
However, the Bath centre along with team-mate Paul James, and Leicester Tigers outside-half Owen Williams look set to miss a golden opportunity to take part in the trial, with the WRU looking to negotiate their availability with Premiership Rugby due to the fixture falling outside of the official IRB window.
Other selections that could be deemed surprising are those of Dragons props Owen Evans who remarkably is in the Probables squad, and Phil Price who takes his place with the Possibles. Joining him in the Possibles are the supremely talented Ospreys stand-off Matthew Morgan and Scarlets openside flanker James Davies.
With the WRU having already confirmed the sale of over 11,000 tickets for the Liberty Stadium encounter, one would think it safe to assume that this trial would have merit in the fact that every player selected should have a genuine chance of earning a place on the plane to South Africa.
But with Gatland having revealed that he will be announcing his touring party a mere hour after the final whistle, it does not realistically allow many of the Probables much room for manoeuvre.
One possible reason for this arduous exercise would seem to be the fact that Gatland does not want his players to land in South Africa undercooked, and off the pace as they were in Australia in 2012. A trial match full of regional rivalries, should at least ensure that Gatland’s squad have had a fair hit out before boarding the plane to the rainbow nation.
The tour to South Africa will undoubtedly test the Welsh in a physical capacity as they seek to better their appalling record of having triumphed only once in 27 meetings with the Springboks to date.
Wales will go head-to-head with Heyneke Meyer’s side at King’s Park in Durban on June 14th, before getting a rematch a week later at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. The 2013 Six Nations champions will also play a mid-week fixture against the Eastern Province Kings, at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on June 10th.
The Springboks will be looking to build on an impressive campaign last year whereupon they were successful in 12 out of 14 test matches.
Meyer has selected an extremely experienced squad with recalls for the legendary Victor Matfield, 68-times capped Stormers back-row forward Schalk Burger, and breakdown specialist Heinrich Brussow.
The likelihood of a Welsh victory in this two test series does appear to be remote, with injuries to key personnel appearing to concede the initiative to the Springboks. Despite the Welsh possessing some dangerous strike runners behind the scrum, the experienced Springboks look likely to hold all the aces up front.
Respectability would seem to be the order of the day for Gatland’s men, with the hope that some of the less experienced players put their hands up as players who could potentially feature at the 2015 World Cup.