Rhodri is ready for step up
THE Scarlets believe scrum-half Rhodri Williams is ready to make the step up to international rugby after the 20-year-old was named in Warren Gatland's 35-man squad for the forthcoming autumn Test series.
Williams was one of the shining lights for Wales Under-20s as they reached the IRB Junior World Championship final in France this summer.
And he has continued to catch the eye in regional colours, starring for the Scarlets in their opening two Heineken Cup outings against Harlequins and Racing Metro.
The Ammanford product is one of three uncapped players in Gatland's squad — Ospreys wing Eli Walker and Blues centre Cory Allen are the others — and Scarlets backs coach Mark Jones believes Williams's performances in Europe this season have already shown he can cope with the big-match pressure.
"I have no qualms about him being ready," said Jones.
"He is mature beyond his years and understands how we want to try to play the game — what we want him to look for in opposition defences and what their weaknesses are — he is only going to get better at that.
"With us having numerous good scrum-halves here and having had good scrum-halves here who have since moved on, I think it was the right decision last year to let him go and play semi-pro level to honour his under-20 commitments.
"What you are seeing now is a maturity in his performances at our level.
"He understands how to run a game better having had lots of games for Llandovery. This season, we were always keen for Rhodri to come in and start competing for that number nine jersey and it just shows if you have a run of games and play well, national selectors are not afraid to pick you."
Jones added: "Wales are fortunate they have Mike Phillips who has been a stalwart for them over the years and Lloyd Williams, who has been in the squad for a while now, but I am sure Rhodri will go in there and mix things up and give the selectors a headache for the Springboks game."
Williams is one of seven Scarlets in Gatland's squad with half-back partner Rhys Priestland recalled after missing the 2013 Six Nations and the summer tour of Japan with an Achilles injury.
Priestland has shown signs of being back to his best in recent weeks and his battle with Dan Biggar for the No. 10 jersey is sure to be one of the main talking points surrounding selection for the opening match against South Africa on November 9.
"Rhys has worked very hard on his game in the off-season, has been very diligent in his preparation and is really seeing the picture very clearly and making good decisions in games," said Jones.
"He also wants to get his hands on the ball a lot.
"I am sure he will put pressure on Dan Biggar, who is the incumbent in the ten jersey, and give another headache to the selectors." The Scarlets' Welsh contingent will link up with Wales in the Vale of Glamorgan on Monday, while flanker John Barclay will return north after earning a recall to the Scotland squad.
First, though, they must negotiate Friday's RaboDirect Pro12 clash with Zebre in Italy.
Co-captain Rob McCusker and Ken Owens remain sidelined with injury and they are joined on the sidelines by wing Jordan Williams, who is ruled out of the match because of a shoulder sprain.
Backs Kristian Phillips and Gareth Owen are available, while new Romanian signing, prop Horatiu Pungea, could feature.