Priestland edges towards exit as Howley puts faith in Davies

2:25 PM GMT

Rob Howley has named the first squad of his second stint as interim Wales head coach, and his selection appears to rubber stamp a few things.

Not only has Taulupe Faletau seemingly developed into such an important cog in the Welsh machine that he merits inclusion even when unfit, but that decision may in turn signal the end of Rhys Priestland’s career as a Test fly-half.

Howley’s selection has been shaped to a certain degree by the Welsh Rugby Union’s senior player selection policy, which dictates he can only pick three of the seven players playing abroad who are currently caught by it.

Priestland may have hoped that Faletau’s injury woes would hand him a reprieve but his own battle for form and fitness, allied to Sam Davies’ emergence with the Ospreys, has presented Howley with the chance to include the No. 8 in the hope that he recovers before the end of November.

There is an obvious upside to this call. Faletau’s importance to Wales has grown since the last World Cup, and at times it has seemed as though he is capable of winning matches single handedly.

As Wales plan for the next tournament in Japan, it is vital that their best players are together for as long as possible in order to build a togetherness that is so integral to the international game.

Taulupe Faletau in action against New Zealand at Eden Park. Phil Walter/Getty Images

Having Faletau working with the likes of Dan Baker — who may deputise for him this autumn — could prove invaluable. At a time when power brokers are haggling over the release of top internationals, it was possibly not an opportunity Howley felt he could pass up.

That does not mean it would have been an easy decision. Priestland still has plenty to offer, and had one of his finest performances in a red shirt against Ireland in Dublin last February, when he came off the bench to steer his country to a 16-16 draw.

But his move to Bath has come at the wrong time of his career, and playing second fiddle to George Ford on a weekly basis has clearly taken its toll.

That Sam Davies has played so well for the Ospreys while Dan Biggar has been away with Wales, has not only put pressure on Priestland but also the current incumbent and the third fly-half in Howley’s squad, Gareth Anscombe.

It seems highly likely that Biggar will start against Australia on Nov. 5 but Davies’ inclusion offers Howley and Wales the opportunity to play a more expansive game.

Given the choice that is something that many of the thousands of fans who will make the trip to Cardiff next month would like to see. If it doesn’t come against the Wallabies then the match against Japan at least offers a chance to experiment.

Sam Davies has forced his way into the Wales squad on the back of some fine form with the Ospreys. Craig Thomas/CameraSport via Getty Images

But in that sense, this is a squad that some may feel falls a little short. While there is logic to Faletau’s inclusion, James Davies can feel a little aggrieved not to have received a call up, especially given Ross Moriarty will also be unavailable for the visit of Australia.

The Scarlets flanker, who tweaked a hamstring against Sale, is a master over the ball but Wales are not bereft of back row options and Howley can call upon Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate against the Wallabies.

That is not the case all over the pitch, and Rob Evans’ absence highlights the lack of viable alternatives to Gethin Jenkins at loosehead prop. The veteran front row cannot go on forever, and this autumn represents a huge opportunity for Nicky Smith to stake a claim to the No. 1 shirt.

Smith is joined in the squad by 11 other Ospreys, but could Sam Parry have made it a baker’s dozen? The hooker has started the season in fine form, scoring four tries in seven appearances but misses out to his more experienced club mate, Scott Baldwin.

Similarly Alex Cuthbert has been recalled when many were hoping the precocious Keelan Giles would have got the nod.

Following only four first-team games for the Ospreys, that call may well have been a little too soon in the winger’s development but for some Wales fans it will be interpreted as an indication of the brand of rugby they can expect over the next month.

In that sense, the inclusion of Sam Davies can be seen as a beacon of hope.

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