Face-off at fly-half as Biggar and Priestland in main frame
ROB Howley has indicated that Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland are involved in a two-horse race to play fly-half for Wales against South Africa in Cardiff a week today.
The super-confident Rhys Patchell is also in the 35-man squad, along with James Hook.
But Wales are viewing Patchell as more of a long-term bet and evidently see Hook as a utility back.
So it is set to be a straight choice between Biggar, who piloted Wales to the Six Nations title last term, and Priestland, who was wearing No. 10 in the Grand Slam campaign the year before.
"The selection at ten will be as difficult as ever," acknowledged Howley.
"Outside-half is never straightforward. In the three 10s we have and the balance of their play, they all offer different skill-sets.
"Going back to last term's Six Nations, I was really pleased with Dan Biggar, how he navigated the team around games, in particular Scotland and Italy, in difficult conditions, wet with a greasy ball where territory was at the forefront of the game and he played in the right areas.
"His performance against England was also very good.
"Rhys has been out for a while but has started the season well and has shown glimpses of his old form playing for the Scarlets and then you have the young pretender, Rhys Patchell, coming up, a hard ball carrier, a great running threat who is confident with the ball in hand.
"With Patchell I'm looking ahead to 2015. We want him in the environment and will give him an opportunity at some stage but it's between Rhys Priestland and Dan.
"It's important they show up as best as possible in training to ensure they have the best chance to get selected."
Both Biggar and Priestland are seen as having the ability to stay on-message and execute game-plans.
Priestland showed his attacking quality in the Scarlets' Heineken Cup win over Harlequins, while Biggar has been consistently impressive for the Ospreys, scoring all their points in two European matches and picking up a number of man-of-the-match awards.
Howley took issue with the suggestion that Priestland suited Wales's style more.
"We play a passing game, a kicking game and a kick balance," he said.
"Kick-pass-run ratio is pretty important for an outside-half and so is decision-making.
"Both of them have the attributes to play and that's not forgetting defence.
"That will be a key element to the decision, because the majority of sides at international level attack the ten channel."
There had been suggestions that Wales might consider using Hook at full-back and switching Leigh Halfpenny to the wing, with Alex Cuthbert ruled out of the November Tests because of injury.
But that door also appears shut for Perpignan-based Hook.
Halfpenny's outstanding shows in the Six Nations last term and for the Lions in the summer means he is set to continue there, with either Eli Walker or Liam Williams taking over from Cuthbert.
Asked would Wales consider shifting Halfpenny, Howley replied: "I'm of the view that it would be taking one of the best players in world rugby, who would get into any side at 15, out of his best position.
"We want to find out about players with 2015 in mind, whether Liam or Eli have an opportunity on the wing. We have to look at and develop our depth for the World Cup."
That leaves the gifted Hook with only centre to aim at, but Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies have been working well together at the Scarlets.
Whatever, Wales are gearing up for a huge challenge against South Africa.
"We are probably coming up against one of the most physical sides in world rugby, and when you look at our performances of late in autumn Tests, we have been hugely disappointed," said Howley. "When this side played last, it played against England, and I believe that performance will have to go up another level for us to have any chance of beating the Springboks.
"It is about getting the mental intensity and preparation for what we expect against South Africa.
"South Africa are coming into our calendar having not played in nearly four weeks. Our players have been playing but now we have to get them running 75 metres every minute instead of 50. That's the challenge."