In the last 50 international games for Wales, fewer than 10 players have worn all but one of their numbers on the back of their shirts.

Only five players carried two or nine on their backs. The same goes for number five, thanks to the presence of Alan Wyn Jones. Despite numerous midfield partnerships in recent years, neither the number 12 nor the number 13 reached double figures. Interestingly, it is the number 14 shirt that is closest because nine have already worn it.

But there is one that stands out from the crowd. Since Wales’ World Cup quarter-final victory over France in 2019, 13 players have lined up on the full-back wing wearing the number six shirt.

Since that day in Oita, it’s pretty easy to list them. Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Dan Lydiat, Josh Navidi, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Thane Basham, Seb Davies, Jack Morgan and Christ Tshiunza.

Of Baker’s twelve sixes, 12 are still in play, while Navidi retired last year. The large number of names perhaps indicates the lack of clarity about the position in recent years.

Although number 8 was the domain of Taulupe Faletau when he was fit, and number seven was always a source of wealth, number six always fluctuated between ideologies and approaches.

Sometimes the goal is to have a bulky traditional six, sometimes a hybrid in the second row. Other times, it’s simply a matter of getting as many good sevens on the field as possible. There aren’t many on this list that you can call irresponsible.

In short, it generally depends on other positions. That’s why the list is longer than any other.

More names could soon be added to the list as injuries have affected Warren Gatland’s plans ahead of next week’s squad announcement. World Cup captain Morgan, the last man to wear the six-man jersey, is likely to miss the tournament.

Faletau is yet to return from injury, raising the possibility that Wainwright, Wales’ first-choice player in France, could continue to deputize for him at number eight.

And some of the other number six options, like Tshiunza and Thane Plumtree, are also injured.

Of the other names on this list, Tipuric has retired from international rugby and Moriarty has retired from World Cup play. He is not completely out of testing and available for selection, but that seems unlikely.

The Dragons’ former third row adapted very well in Brive and was ignored by Wayne Pivac and Gatland before heading to France, so there appears to be no suggestion of abandonment.

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In retrospect, some, like Turnbull, Jenkins and Davies, are unlikely to claim the blind spot at this point, but there is hope for others.

Lewis-Hughes has not had a good start in Cardiff since making his Test debut in 2020 after a difficult few years due to injury. He has made an early start in the second row at the Arms Park this season but has played just 69 minutes since the start of December due to a shoulder injury.

After all, you’d expect him to be back on the scene – he’s only 26. Another Arms Park defender who has had injury problems is Botham. The versatile winger, who last played in the summer of 2021, had to wait until Boxing Day to make his first appearance of the season following a hamstring injury, but scored with two tries against the Dragons.

If he fits, he could offer you the closest thing to Navidi, who looked like the best archetype of the last six years. It remains to be seen whether he will return to the ranks.

Lydiat didn’t end his career, but he missed minutes at the World Cup and started against Portugal in a match that didn’t suit his skills. Given Gatland’s talk about reaching out to young people, he could look beyond the rugged Valiant.



The Welsh Six shirt has changed more than any other in the last five years

Dragons defender Thane Basham looks a good bet to make the team after Gatland impressed last year, even with his recent suspension. But after Morgan’s injury, he will likely compete for the open jersey with Tommy Reffel.

Looking at other options in Gatland’s wider training squad ahead of last year’s World Cup, Josh McLeod has had injury problems in recent years but is another who could play in the back row. Teddy Williams is also capable at blindside but has been lighting up the Arms Park from the second row in recent months.

A surprise name that appeared earlier this week was Irishman Rhys Ruddock. The son of Grand Slam-winning coach Mike, he will qualify midway through the tournament after three years without representing Ireland.

Given his experience, it could be a tempting option for Gatland, although at 33, it’s not exactly for the future and may seem like an odd proposition.

“It’s not up to me to tell Wales who to pick, but as a father I’d like to see him wear the red shirt,” dad Mike told the Irish Mirror.

“He grew up there as a rugby player, playing for Wales under-18s before his life changed and I’m sure he will bring a lot of experience and leadership to this team.

“I think a lot of people would like to see him back in Welsh rugby.”

Although Ruddock’s minutes last season were drastically reduced. Averaging around 1,100 minutes per season between 2013 and 2022, he only managed 600 last year and has played just 108 so far this campaign.

While he has undoubtedly achieved a lot with Leinster, Gatland would probably be better off looking for options closer to home at this time. Rhys Davies, who played in the second row last year, played for the Ospreys this year with Toby Booth. He looks like someone who could establish himself on the international stage, but whether it will be as a second line or a full-back remains to be seen.

This season also sees the emergence of young talent like Ryan Woodman and Ben Williams. But the sixth form student in Wales right now is Alex Mann.

The Cardiff defense impressed their teammates and coaches not only with their attitude at the Arms Park, but also with the sheer number of tackles they make.

He was the first player to surpass the 100 tackles mark at Rugby United and still leads the league with 114 tackles, with an impressive 91% success rate.

Simply put, it will hit anything that moves. It’s the closest thing to a traditional blind spot you’re likely to find in Wales right now. With these young players there is a danger of rushing them, increasing the level of exposure they already have due to smaller squads and reduced budgets. But Mann hasn’t disappeared yet.

There is a good chance Faletau returns in time, allowing Wainwright to recover from the downside. Although it depends on Faletau’s fitness, Wainwright remains the best option at six.

Last year he was excellent in that position, playing his best rugby. The state of flux around the position tends to be more about players being needed somewhere and where the blindside role tends to be placed in the hierarchy rather than the performance of any fit individual.

If Wainwright is needed at No. 8, one of the other open ends will likely fill in.

However, if Gatland decides he needs a new face, he could do a lot worse than add Mann to that long list.