Warren Gatland excited by potential of Jonah Holmes

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Wales boss Warren Gatland is relishing the chance to watch Jonah Holmes in Test-match action after handing him his international debut.

The Leicester back will line up in a Wales team showing 14 changes for Saturday’s clash against Tonga.

The Stockport-born player, whose late grandmother was Welsh, features at full-back in a starting line-up that sees Saracens wing Liam Williams win his 50th cap.

Cardiff Blues flanker Ellis Jenkins will captain the side, while there are also starts for the likes of centre Tyler Morgan, scrum-half Tomos Williams, prop Leon Brown, flanker Aaron Wainwright and number eight Seb Davies.

Leicester's Jonah Holmes, right, tackles Scarlets’ Will Boyde
Leicester’s Jonah Holmes, right, tackles Scarlets’ Will Boyde (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He has impressed us in training so far, and he gets an opportunity,” Gatland said.

“We feel at the moment he is going to give us some different attacking threat from full-back.

“It is a big step up for him, but we are really excited about the potential he can bring to the game and give us some more headaches in terms of selection.

“Full-back is a position where we want to create depth.

“He has been a top try-scorer for Leicester playing on the wing, and before he went to Leicester he was top try-scorer in the Championship with Yorkshire Carnegie.”

Holmes was one of two uncapped players named in Wales’ autumn squad, with Ospreys wing Luke Morgan being handed a chance against Scotland 12 days ago.

Only lock Adam Beard is retained from the starting XV that recorded a first victory over Australia for 10 years last weekend, but Liam Williams apart, experience is provided by the likes of fly-half Dan Biggar and lock Jake Ball.

Liam Williams will win his 50th Wales cap on Saturday
Liam Williams will win his 50th Wales cap on Saturday (David Davies/PA)

“We want 31 players in the World Cup squad who can feel comfortable about starting and are really fighting for starting positions, and we have gone a long way to achieving that.

“There is a big challenge for those players to go out this weekend and give a really good performance of accuracy and pride around that jersey.

“The next step is to put us under pressure as coaches and selectors to make it hard when selecting the team next week for South Africa.”

Wales will chase an eighth successive victory this weekend, which would equal their longest unbeaten run since the 2004-05 season, while they have won all eight previous Tests against Tonga.

Chief leadership duty, meanwhile, falls to 25-year-old Jenkins, who skippered Wales to a 22-20 victory over South Africa in Washington DC earlier this year.

“In fairness, both he (Jenkins) and Cory Hill did a brilliant job in the summer,” Gatland said.

“Cory got the opportunity to captain twice (against Argentina), and we felt it was Ellis’s turn for the second time for a bit of continuation from the summer.

“I don’t think he is too worried about the captaincy, it is about his performance being really important.”

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