Warren Gatland is right to throw tyros in at the deep end – Welsh history is built on such bravery

Warren Gatland is right to throw tyros in at the deep end - Welsh history is built on such bravery

Warren Gatland’s return to the Wales set-up has not gone smoothly – PA/Ben Birchall

Leigh Halfpenny will take the emotional plaudits when the full-back runs out first at the Principality Stadium in honour of his 100th Welsh cap on Saturday, but behind him, two young men will sense that this World Cup warm-up against England offers a giddying opportunity at the start of their international careers.

Warren Gatland has entrusted Jac Morgan, 23, with the captaincy and Sam Costelow, 22, with the cherished No 10 shirt. In many respects – and not just because it came a day earlier than planned – it was a surprise selection, with Gatland naming three new caps (the two Cardiff props Corey Domachowski and Keiron Assiratti and Gloucester centre Max Llewellyn) in a largely inexperienced line-up.

However, Gatland has a history of throwing tyros towards the deep end in Rugby World Cup build-ups and with plenty of success as well. Certainly Morgan will spot the similarity with the countdown to the 2011 spectacular. Then a 22-year-old flanker called Sam Warburton was given the armband in the summer hit out against the nearest and dearest and after a man-of-the-match performance in the Welsh capital he was named as the captain for the tournament in New Zealand.

Gatland – who is often ridiculously labelled as a coach who favours the obvious – had no qualms about surrounding his new leader with other future superstars in the forbidding shape of George North, Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Davies and they, too, emerged as household names in Wales as they came within a point of reaching that final.

Wales were reborn and after a torrid 18 months that has witnessed sexism allegations, resignations, sackings and the threat of a player strike before February’s Six Nations defeat to England, Gatland is bidding to oversee another resurrection.

Warren Gatland is right to throw tyros in at the deep end – Welsh history is built on such bravery

Jac Morgan will lead Wales against England on Saturday – PA/Mike Egerton

The national team have only won four of their last 17 matches and with an exodus of legends including Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Ken Owens, Gatland has no option but to spin the table again. And in Morgan, there is a candidate in the mold of Warburton – both in position and dynamism – who can herald the next generation of Dragons.

In truth, barring injury, the Osprey is a certainty to make the World Cup squad when it is finalised in three weeks time. He has been one of the few bright spots in this slump and in his favoured role as openside can be the heartbeat of the back row and the pack and emerge as Gatland’s man.

In the Welsh Rugby Union statement on Wednesday, Gatland revealed that “we’ll be looking at probably having a different captain for each of these [three] matches” and Dewi Lake, the 24-year-old hooker, is expected to come in at Twickenham and could be given his audition at skipper. With Dan Biggar, who captained during the Six Nations, saying recently that even he would prefer Gatland to go with a young leader, at this point it seems between Morgan and Lake.

Biggar is on the bench on Saturday and will be as intrigued as anyone to watch Costelow on his first start for his country. The Scarlet enjoyed a tremendous finish to the season and, if Gatland is going to take three No 10s, Costelow is favourite to join Biggar and Gareth Anscombe in France. But Costelow, too, can peer back to 2011 and see the possibilities.

After his own rousing form in Llanelli, Rhys Priestland went into that summer as third-choice playmaker but seized on the injury to Stephen Jones to claim the starting berth for the World Cup and after the semi-final odyssey played in all five games of the 2012 Grand Slam.

At the moment, the sort of boy’s own scenario appears unlikely for Costelow, who went through the Leicester Tigers academy before returning to the homeland three years ago. But with his low-centre of gravity and pace of the mark, he offers something different and could make a case for a place in the 23. Costelow has proved out west that he has a keen eye for the implausible and he surely cannot fail to recognise the golden nature of this opportunity.

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