Wales rugby tour: Coach Robin McBryde needs new stars to shine

Wales v RGC 1404
Wales prepared for the tour with a warm-up game against RGC 1404, winning 88-19
Wales v Tonga and Samoa
Venue: Auckland and Apia Dates: 16 June to 23 June
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales online, mobile, the BBC Sport app and Connected TV (UK only).

While Wales' rugby elite are facing their challenge in of touring New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in June, the new kids on the block are hoping to make their own mark in the southern hemisphere.

Warren Gatland is coaching the Lions with Rob Howley one of his assistants, so regular forwards coach Robin McBryde is in charge of Wales for the matches against Tonga in Auckland on 16 June and Samoa in Apia a week later.

With 12 senior internationals, including captain Alun Wyn Jones on Lions duty, and a number of players such as experienced prop Gethin Jenkins forced to withdraw injured, McBryde has been forced to call upon less familiar faces.

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The 46-year-old has 14 uncapped players in his 32-man squad, all aiming to make the grade at international level.

Seven uncapped players were named in Wales' Six Nations squad - rewarded for promising domestic displays - but none of them were involved in any match-day 23.

Just three players - Ellis Jenkins, Cory Hill and Sam Davies - have won first caps since the 2015 World Cup.

Wales' coaches have received criticism for that, accused of relying on the same old faces and not giving new players chances to shine.

The matches against Tonga and Samoa offer perfect opportunities for the likes of Ospreys wing Keelan Giles, Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Gloucester bound fly-half Owen Williams.

Only three of the players who featured under McBryde four years ago when Wales headed to Japan for two Tests - Liam Williams, Dan Biggar and Scott Baldwin - were involved in the 2017 Six Nations.

Dan Biggar and Liam Williams played under McBryde on the tour to Japan and four years on find themselves in the Lions squad
Dan Biggar and Liam Williams played under McBryde on the tour to Japan and four years on find themselves in the Lions squad

With preparations already well underway for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the aim for Wales will be to head there with a squad of experienced international stars, rather than relying too much on a starting side that has brought success to Welsh rugby under Gatland.

This tour, though, is without doubt a tough test for McBryde's inexperienced squad, with Welsh wins rare down under.

Samoa are clearly capable of mixing it with the game's best, while Tonga have the potential to be much more than just a nuisance as they proved last year in beating Italy 19-17 in Padova.

Tonga will not have 'home advantage' - as their Teufaiva Sport Stadium in Nuku'alofa is being redeveloped - they will undoubtedly have plenty of support in Auckland.

Still, Wales have never lost to Tonga in seven previous meetings and it would be a shock were they to suffer a first defeat on Friday.

A week later McBryde's squad visit Apia to take on Samoa, who have a history of inflicting humiliating defeats on Wales.

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Samoa have won four of the nine matches between the two sides, including famous World Cup wins in 1991 and 1999 as well as a comfortable 34-9 victory at home in Apia the last time Wales toured the Pacific Islands in 1994.

New Zealand were the last tier-one nation to visit and were pushed to the limit by a fired-up Samoa, before holding on for a 25-16 victory in 2015.

It was ample proof that the small country deserves to be recognised as a force in the global game and worthy of more visits from the elite.

It may sound like a nice way to end the season for Wales. History, though, suggests otherwise.

Wales squad:

Prop: Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Rhodri Jones (Ospreys), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues).

Hooker: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues)

Second-row: Adam Beard (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues), Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons), Rory Thornton (Ospreys).

Back-row: Ollie Griffiths (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues), Thomas Young (Wasps), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets).

Scrum-half: Aled Davies (Scarlets), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues).

Fly-half/full-back: Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Sam Davies (Ospreys), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Owen Williams (Leicester Tigers).

Centre: Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Cory Allen (Ospreys).

Wing: Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Steff Evans (Scarlets), Keelan Giles (Ospreys).

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