Injury-hit Wales will not shift experienced loosehead prop Wyn Jones to tighthead and could instead field a player who has never started a first-class professional game in the second Test against the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
During the 32-29 defeat by the Boks at Lofus Versfeld, Wales lost first-choice tighthead prop Tomas Francis to a concussion and he will subsequently miss the second Test of the series due to a mandatory stand-down period of 12 days.
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In the wake of losing Francis, it was thought that Wales would turn to 30-year-old Jones, who is normally a loosehead but did cover tighthead during the 2019 World Cup.
However, forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys on Monday insisted that Jones would not be shifted to the No 3 jersey and instead one of the rookie props in the squad – Sam Wainwright or Harri O’Connor – would make their Test debuts against the world champions.
Wainwright has made only four appearances off the bench for Saracens this season due to the strength in depth at the club, and the 24-year-old has played the majority of his rugby for Ampthill in the English Championship.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old O’Connor has started just one game in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship for Scarlets.
“We’ve got two other tightheads that we’ve brought out with us in Sam and Harri, so it’s a massive opportunity for either one of those,” said Humphreys during a media conference on Monday.
“It’s a hell of an opportunity for anybody, especially two very committed young professionals like those two. It’s a massive positive for them and for us because it increases our depth in that area and that’s what we’re after.
“I’m confident that they’re ready to take on the occasion. They’re extremely impressive young people and they’ve worked their socks off since they’ve been over here. They’ve fitted right in.
“I’m confident that the occasion won’t be too much for them and that they’ll go out there and give everything they’ve got.”
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Humphreys added that Wales will not be rushing Francis back to action.
“The priority is his health. We’ve got an unbelievable medical department making sure that he comes first. He’s good. It was tough at the time. It’s tough to see anybody be knocked out like that. He recovered well afterwards and he seems pretty good in himself.
“It’s over to the medics to take it from now.”
Wales are expected to name their team for the second of three Tests on Thursday.
Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP