Wayne Pivac might have prepared for his first Six Nations campaign playing out a few different ways.
A tilt at the title? Of course, you always back yourself to be a contender.
A tough run of reality? Sure, Test rugby is decided by fine margins and it’s easier than you’d think to slide to consecutive defeats.
The Six Nations not being completed due to a global pandemic? Now, Pivac probably didn’t see that one coming.
The reality is, due to the coronavirus, we don’t truly know when Wales will take to the field next.
With certain players’ injury recovery being aided by the lack of action, and others’ club futures up in the air, we can make some educated guesses on what the starting XV might look like when Wales do next hit a ruck in anger.
And it’s very different to the side Pivac has fielded to date, certainly in the back division.
15. Liam Williams
Once again, it’s a shoot-out for the 15 jersey between Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny.
Before now, Halfpenny had often won out in that battle, but over the last two years, Williams has had possession of his preferred jersey when fit.
Williams wasn’t fit for the start of the Six Nations, meaning Halfpenny was back in the starting XV after being on the periphery in the World Cup.
Given how Pivac wants to play, it’s fair to assume Williams will reclaim the number .15 jersey when rugby resumes.
14. George North
During the Six Nations, there was plenty of discussion about who should be starting on the wing.
George North, Johnny McNicholl or Louis Rees-Zammitt? That was the question.
North ultimately retained his place and the likelihood is that will still be the case whenever Wales play next.
McNicholl didn’t do enough to displace the Ospreys winger, while Rees-Zammitt, despite public clamour, hasn’t been handed his chance yet.
13. Jonathan Davies
There are few players Wales miss as much as Jonathan Davies when he’s not there.
Defensively, he has a knack of holding the team together – with his reading of the game and the sheer workload he takes on one of the keys to Wales being so aggressive in defence at their best.
Wales’ defensive woes were attributed to Byron Hayward taking over from Shaun Edwards, but Davies’ absence was arguably just as important. When he’s back, he starts.
12. Nick Tompkins
Nick Tompkins was the find of the Six Nations for Pivac, with the Saracens centre impressing on his introduction to Test rugby.
The next time Wales play, Tompkins could be plying his trade in this country – with the Dragons now reportedly leading the chase.
And with Hadleigh Parkes, a man who has given as much to the jersey as you could ask in his 29 caps, set to leave Welsh rugby for a Japanese swansong, Tompkins looks certain to be Wales’ next starting inside centre.
11. Josh Adams
Josh Adams’ rapid rise to one of the deadliest finishers in Test rugby has been remarkable to watch.
So when he limped out against Ireland in Dublin during the Six Nations, it was undoubtedly a blow for Wales.
Having him back fit to play, whenever that may be, is a major positive.
10. Gareth Anscombe
Speaking after the World Cup, Warren Gatland revealed that Gareth Anscombe’s injury was the first time he’d missed a player during his time in charge.
So, to say having the Ospreys playmaker back will be a boost is an understatement.
During the 2019 Six Nations, Wales found an ideal balance of Anscombe as a starter and Dan Biggar, to steal an Eddie Jones phrase, acting as a finisher.
As harsh as it would be on Biggar to be relegated back to the bench, given his talents, Pivac, like Gatland, may well decide that Anscombe starting is the best way to using the two of them in tandem.
9. Rhys Webb
During the Six Nations, it didn’t seem like Wales knew who their best scrum-half was.
Tomos Williams was handed the jersey at the start, with Gareth Davies playing second fiddle and Rhys Webb, back in the set-up after a few years in France, naturally playing catch-up.
By the final team announcement, Williams was dropped from the 23 altogether, while Webb was handed a start for the Scotland match that, ultimately, never went ahead.
Maybe that gives Webb a slight advantage, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess who wears the nine jersey next.
1. Wyn Jones
Wyn Jones established himself as first-choice throughout the World Cup and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon – especially as Rob Evans’ stock at Test level has somewhat dropped in the last 12 months.
Moving forward, the man known as ‘Sausage’ will likely retain his starting spot.
2. Ken Owens
Elliot Dee has been the deputy to the Sheriff – Ken Owens – for some time now, but the Six Nations perhaps saw a changing of the guard when it came to second-in-command.
Ryan Elias has emerged as a challenger to Dee and may well be the next cab off the rank after Owens.
Elias now looks the man to replace the 33-year-old Owens, but you doubt the Sheriff has fired his last shot just yet.
3. Tomas Francis
When rugby does return, the reality is that there will likely be a lot of Tests to play.
Tomas Francis will certainly be hoping so. The Exeter prop is 12 caps short of the 60 caps needed to continue playing for Wales while picking up a wage across the border.
He likely would have reached that by the end of his current contract, had rugby not been put on hold. Now he’s facing a tough decision.
But Wales’ scrum did struggle without him and there’s a good chance he’ll start when Wales play next.
Who played instead of him
4. Cory Hill
2019 was a rough year for Cory Hill.
It started with the second-row continuing to establish himself as a leader in the Welsh squad, only for injury to strike – ironically when he was scoring a crucial try against England.
He ended up missing the World Cup and had to wait a year for his next taste of Test rugby.
Jake Ball started in his place and provided the unheralded grunt that Wales needed.
But Hill’s added mobility and ball-handling could be just the sort of lock Pivac wants in his side moving forward.
5. Alun Wyn Jones
A pretty simple one.
Alun Wyn Jones may be getting on in years, but he’s the captain and a talismanic one at that.
He’ll start whenever Wales play next.
6. Josh Navidi
Wales could well have a embarrassment of back-row riches by the time they next play.
Aaron Wainwright and Aaron Shingler would certainly be in contention to start on the blindside when rugby resumes.
But, Wales lacked breakdown presence during the Six Nations so the best option perhaps is Josh Navidi – a man who always punches above his weight at this level.
7. Justin Tipuric
Again, the back-row selection will be tough when rugby resumes.
Ellis Jenkins and James Davies will certainly be further along in their recoveries.
But, wherever they are in their rehab, Justin Tipuric will likely retain his spot in the starting XV after arguably being Wales’ best performer during the Six Nations.
8. Taulupe Faletau
Ross Moriarty has never let Wales down since making his Test debut five years ago, but the prospect of getting Taulupe Faletau back fully fit and performing at Test level is a mouthwatering one.
A combination of Navidi, Tipuric and Faletau could hold the ideal balance of physicality, breakdown nous and carrying threat in wide channels that Pivac will want from his back-row.