Jarrod Evans hopes to take his chance and claim World Cup spot for Wales

Jarrod Evans will be relieved if his phone remains silent on Sunday morning. It will signal the fly-half will be going to the World Cup in Japan with Wales one day after making his first start in international rugby against Ireland.

The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, appreciates how deep the disappointment is for a player to miss out on an event that is held once every four years. He looked a certainty to be named in the All Blacks’ squad for the 1991 tournament having sat on the bench for most of the preceding three years and been on the tour to Argentina that summer. He watched the announcement on television, listening for a name that never came.

“I know how disappointed the players who are not selected are going to be,” said Gatland, who will be informing in advance of the 2pm announcement only those who have not made the 31, giving them the option of a phone call, a text, email or no contact. “It is a tough part of the job. We have been very impressed with the players this summer, but there are times when you get just one chance and for some that comes against Ireland.”

Gatland has made 14 changes from the side that defeated England two weeks ago and the survivor, the flanker James Davies, is as uncertain about his prospects of going to Japan as most in the match-day 23. The danger for Wales is that an effective audition afternoon is more about individuals than the team as they look to maintain their place at the top of the world rankings and extend their 21-month unbeaten run at home.

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“The World Cup is going to be at the forefront of your mind but you have to block it out,” said Evans, who is contesting the second and final fly-half slot in the 31 with Rhys Patchell, who is likely to come on at the start of the second half. “It is about how quickly we come together as a team with 14 changes, a few first caps and a new captain. You have to put your best forward, but it is about whatever is best for the team.”

Evans and Patchell have an opportunity because of the knee injury suffered by Gareth Anscombe at Twickenham three weeks ago that will sideline him until next year. With Gatland saying that he will be taking only three centres to the World Cup, one of Saturday’s pairing, Scott Williams and Owen Watkin, will miss out, while the back three of Hallam Amos, the debutant Owen Lane, Steff Evans and the replacement Jonah Holmes may be vying for one place, depending on the split between forwards and backs Gatland opts for.

“Nothing has changed since we arrived in camp,” said Evans. “We are all fighting for a seat on the plane to Japan. I did not think I had a chance, but things change. My only focus is how I can help the team to play at its best. I am determined to enjoy it. I have gone for the text option on Sunday. Everyone is different.”

Wales prop Rhys Carre prepares for Saturday's match in Cardiff.

Wales prop Rhys Carre could make the most of his opportunity this weekend and claim a place on the plane to Japan. Photograph: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock

The 21-year old prop Rhys Carre, who has left Cardiff Blues for Saracens, is the other first cap and at a time when the increasing pace of the game has seen a number of veterans left out of World Cup squads – the New Zealand prop Owen Franks was the latest this week – he is a potential bolter.

The Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt, has come under pressure to omit his captain, the 37-year old Rory Best, after last weekend’s capitulation at Twickenham, but the New Zealander has long protected his ears from outside noise. After winning the grand slam last year and then defeating New Zealand they have struggled even in the matches they have won. Having been effective at playing the game at their own pace, they have to find a way of adapting when it speeds up and becomes less structured.

“Twickenham was an unacceptable result for us,” said Schmidt, whose team can take over from Wales at the top of the world rankings despite both teams being considerably below full strength. “But some of the criticism of Rory was unfair because it put his performance in the nutshell of the lineout. It was beneath where we need to be and we have a short time to make the progression. I think some of the players were thinking about being on the plane. You can’t afford to look after yourself and it makes the Wales game very important.”

Despite making 11 changes, the Ireland team has a familiar feel. Will Addison starts at full-back one year after joining Ulster from Sale where he appeared on the wing, in the centre and at fly-half. “He is a jack of all trades and master of several,” said Schmidt, who is concerned at the appointment of Felix Jones as South Africa’s attack coach given the possibility of the teams meeting in the quarter-finals.

Jones, the former Ireland full-back, was part of Schmidt’s management team on the 2017 tour to Japan. “I have had a chat with him,” said the coach. “It is a fantastic opportunity to go to a World Cup with a team that is on a massive upward swing, but it is awkward for us because he has been right in amongst us. He is a smart coach and I hope we do not suffer as a consequence.”

For the players in Cardiff, it is all about the World Cup and making a loud statement to keep the phone silent.


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