So that is how Warren Gatland plans to turn Wales into a unit that at least resembles a team – by picking a whole club team to represent the red shirt. Or at least 13 Ospreys to face England at Twickenham on Saturday.
It is fair to say there was widespread shock in the Principality yesterday – if not in the entire rugby world – when the new coach named the first XV of his tenure. It was not the identities of the personnel the uncompromising Kiwi chose, so much as where the overwhelming majority of them play their regional rugby.
There must be a danger that Martyn Williams, from Cardiff Blues, and Mark Jones, from Llanelli Scarlets, may feel rather isolated at HQ. For they are the only players who do not turn out at the Liberty Stadium on a weekly basis. The last Welsh club to have double-figured representation in the national side was Cardiff with 10. That was way back in 1948, which just shows the scale of Gatland's record selection. More recently, Ron Waldron earned himself a lifetime of ridicule when putting a decidedly Neath bias on his Welsh side.
Still, it is hard to fault Gatland's logic this time around; although as ever in a country with so many internal wranglings as Wales there will be plenty lining up to, especially if it backfires. The Dragonhood have not won at Twickenham in 20 years and Gatland is obviously counting on the Ospreys' recent success against English clubs.
The Neath-Swansea amalgamation have beaten Gloucester, London Irish, Harlequins and Worcester already this season to reach the last eight of the Heineken Cup and the EDF Energy Cup semi-finals. And although they are struggling in the Magners League, on their day they have looked by far the best of the four regions. They are viewed as the Chelsea of Welsh rugby by quite easily outspending their rivals, a trend that has inevitably not endeared them to everyone.
Defending his choice, Gatland said: "We haven't gone out to pick as many Ospreys as possible by design. The fact that there are 13 of them is probably more of a coincidence than anything else. But saying that you can't escape the fact that they've been one of the form sides in Europe this season."
The biggest surprise was undoubtedly that of Sonny Parker (Ospreys) ahead of Tom Shanklin at outside centre. As expected, James Hook (Ospreys) is preferred to Stephen Jones at fly-half while Gavin Henson (Ospreys) will make his first start in the Six Nations since the 2005 Grand Slam campaign. Lee Byrne (Ospreys) wins the battle to start at full-back, while Mike Phillips (Ospreys) dons the scrum-half jersey with Dwayne Peel nursing an ankle injury.
Meanwhile, the major decision in the pack is in the second row, where Ian Gough (Ospreys) starts alongside Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys) with Ian Evans (Ospreys) on the bench. Gatland has opted for the largest pack possible to negate the threat of the England front five. Behind the closed doors of basecamp in the Vale of Glamorgan , Gatland is understood to have talked up Wales's chances but yesterday he was humbleness personified.
"We are going to Twickenham on a giant-killing mission, they are the big boys with the extensive resources and huge strength in depth," he said. "We are like a first division club going to Manchester United in a Cup tie and any suggestion that we are anything but underdogs is ridiculous. But we do have the self-belief to think that we are in with a sniff."
Gatland did not reveal whether they plan to wear the red of Wales or the white and black of Ospreys.Reuse content