WARREN Gatland admits that Wales are “taking a punt” on Sam Cross but believes the sevens specialist from Brynmawr has the skills to cause a stir on the Test stage.

The 25-year-old only made his regional debut for the Ospreys against Saracens in the Champions Cup on Saturday yet finds himself with Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau, Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi in the squad for the autumn internationals.

Cross has undoubtedly profited from a glut of back row injuries that has left the Wales management without Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, James Davies, Ollie Griffiths and Ross Moriarty.

However, the Gwent back rower has caught the eye of Gatland & Co thanks to his exploits with his country in the Sevens World Series and when winning silver with Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics.

Cross was with Newport RFC when he featured in the Rio games while he was last season’s DHL Impact Player in the World Series, the award that tallies up tackles, offloads, carries and line breaks.

Gatland believes that dynamism could potentially give them an extra option for the autumn encounters with Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“We’ve watched him on the 7s circuit and one thing about the 7s circuit is that the players that come out of there, their contact skills are excellent,” said Gatland.

“He has done a very good job in captaining the Wales 7s programme and he got exposed [to regional rugby] at the weekend and we felt that potentially he is a point of difference.

“He is quick, he is athletic, he will give us a good lineout option and the way that the game is changing and evolving you need players in your squad to fulfil the roles in terms of the attacking options you are trying to create.

“We’ve taken a punt, we know that, but it could be a punt that works for us.”

Gatland is without a number of injured players yet it was through choice that he has left out Scott Williams, Luke Charteris, Jamie Roberts and Sam Davies.

The head coach insists that for Charteris and Roberts, who are over 30, the World Cup is still very much a possibility.

“There are some players who have missed out on the squad and we’ve spoken to some of them and said the door is not closed,” said Gatland.

“We feel this is an opportunity to experiment a little, try some new combinations and expose some players.

“We’ve got the Six Nations coming up and will look to do a little bit of the same in the summer in Argentina when the plan is that we will leave some key experienced players behind so that they get a good off-season and prepare for the following 12 months up to the World Cup.”

Rhys Priestland is rewarded for some superb displays for Bath with a recall.

The fly-half, who won the last of his 48 caps in 2016, has prospered from being handed the 10 jersey at the Rec following England ace George Ford’s move to Leicester.

“He has done exceptionally well,” said Gatland. “He looks calm and relaxed and playing with a lot of confidence.

“That was what we had in 2011 when he was very good for us. The challenge for us is to keep him being confident and not reading social media and negative reports, because that definitely had a negative impact on him in the past and is why he moved away.

“It has worked well for him. He has been rejuvenated with Bath.”

Scarlets back Hadleigh Parkes is included despite only qualifying for the fourth and final Test against South Africa.

Wales squad

Backs: A Davies (Scarlets), G Davies (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys), D Biggar (Ospreys), R Patchell (Scarlets), R Priestland (Bath), O Williams (Gloucester), J Davies (Scarlets), T Morgan (Dragons), H Parkes (Scarlets), O Watkin (Ospreys), H Amos (Dragons), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), S Evans (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Scarlets), L Williams (Saracens).

Forwards: R Evans (Scarlets), W Jones (Scarlets), N Smith (Ospreys), L Brown (Dragons), T Francis (Exeter), S Lee (Scarlets), K Dacey (Cardiff Blues), E Dee (Dragons), K Owens (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), A Beard (Ospreys), S Davies (Cardiff Blues), C Hill (Dragons), A W Jones (Ospreys, captain), S Cross (Ospreys), T Faletau (Bath), D Lydiate (Ospreys), J Navidi (Cardiff Blues), A Shingler (Scarlets), J Tipuric (Ospreys).