By Graham Thomas
Ken Owens has been named as Wales captain in a familiar-looking squad with Warren Gatland admitting it was too late in the day for a radical overhaul.
The appointment of Owens, 36, reflects the short-term nature of Gatland’s Six Nations squad selection.
Although there are four uncapped players, the elevation of Owens and the inclusion of veterans 37-year-old Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny, 34, Rhys Webb 34, Justin Tipuric, 33, Dan Biggar 33, and Taulupe Faletau, 32 means the group has retained much of the feel of Gatland’s previous spell in charge which ended three years ago.
There are 12 players over the age of 30 and between them they account for 1,018 Wales caps.
“I’ve a huge amount of respect for Ken as a person and I’m sure he’ll be popular with the players,” said Gatland.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve, has an outstanding rugby intellect and he relates well with people. I’m sure he’ll be a popular choice with the players.
🏴 Capten Cymru 🏴 pic.twitter.com/nrF0BWApEu
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 17, 2023
“I did contemplate whether we picked a young captain and looked at that for the future.
“Talking to the other coaches, there’s probably a few contenders post the World Cup, where there’ll be significant change to the squad. Ken’s been picked to do that job and he’ll do a great job.”
Wyn Jones, Dewi Lake and Liam Williams return from injuries that saw them miss the autumn internationals, while lock Rhys Davies, centre Keiran Williams, wing Mason Grady and utility forward Teddy Williams are the uncapped players in the squad.
There are also recalls for Leon Brown, Rhys Carre, Rhys Patchell, Aaron Wainwright, Rhys Webb and Owen Williams.
Pushed on why he had included so many old-timers and not gone for more young blood, Gatland admitted that the day for experimentation had probably passed.
“The thought process is that it was something that needed to be done earlier.
“I think we’re running out of time. Some of that experience needs to be in that squad to help with the youngsters who haven’t got a lot of caps to their name. That was the thought process there.
Warren Gatland’s Wales squad includes 12 players over 30. Asked if it needed a more radical overhaul he admitted: “That was something that needed to be done earlier. I think we’re running out of time.”
More on @SkySportsNews pic.twitter.com/nabjhvNdX2
— Graham Thomas (@Graham_Thomas) January 17, 2023
“I think the challenge is balancing the older players who have been part of the squad with the younger players.
“How many changes do you make? We need to give them youngsters opportunities leading into the World Cup. It’s a balancing act. I think that’s reflected in the squad.
“There’s experienced players that we want to be a part of it, but there’s a lot of players who haven’t got many caps behind their name who need more experience. We’ve seen teams arrive at World Cups in the past with older squads and then you pick up some injuries.
“All of a sudden, you’re throwing in inexperienced players. That’s part of our thinking. It’s important that we do well in the Six Nations, but we have to think about the next 10 months as well.”
As far why Gatland went for Owens as skipper – rather than a bold choice like a 22-year-old Sam Warburton who was given the job in the New Zealander’s first spell in charge, he added: “The reason I didn’t was that there’s probably two or three players who would be in contention post World Cup, but there’s an older player who could be ahead of them in their position.
“We had a good debate about who could be a long-term captain of Wales post-World Cup and there were some interesting candidates and some strong contenders as well.”
The inclusion of Teddy Williams in the Wales Six Nations squad is some story. The 22-year-old second row only made his first Cardiff start on Sunday. But his outstanding display against Newcastle clearly caught the eye of the watching Warren Gatland.
— Simon Thomas (@simonrug) January 17, 2023
Wales open their Six Natons campaign at home to Ireland on Feb. 4.
Gatland is back as head coach following the axing of Wayne Pivac last month. Wales lost nine of their 12 tests in 2022.
The Kiwi previously coached Wales for a 12-year period up to the 2019 World Cup, winning four Six Nations titles in that time.
Asked whether he could repeat his first time Grand Slam triumph of 2018, he added: “It wasn’t believable 15 years ago, so anything’s possible.
“I’m incredibly competitive and I’ll do whatever it takes to get this team to a position where they can compete with the best sides in the world.
“That will take some time, but I can guarantee we’ll work extremely hard over the next couple of weeks. I’m positive we’ll compete extremely well in the Six Nations.”
WALES SQUAD FOR 2023 Guiness Six Nations
Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby 17 caps)
Wyn Jones (Scarlets – 45 caps)
Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 17 caps)
Dewi Lake (Ospreys – 8 caps)
Ken Owens (Scarlets – 86 caps), Captain
Bradley Roberts (Dragons – 3 caps)
Leon Brown (Dragons – 22 caps)
Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 67 caps)
Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 45 caps)
Adam Beard (Ospreys – 41 caps)
Rhys Davies (Ospreys – uncapped)
Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 1 cap)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 155 caps)
Teddy Williams (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 95 caps)
Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 6 caps)
Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 4 caps)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 89 caps)
Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs – 3 caps)
Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 36 caps)
Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 16 caps)
Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 36 caps)
Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 40 caps)
Dan Biggar (Toulon – 103 caps)
Rhys Patchell (Scarlets – 21 caps)
Owen Williams (Ospreys – 3 caps)
Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
Joe Hawkins (Ospreys – 1 cap)
George North (Ospreys – 109 caps)
Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 25 caps)
Keiran Williams (Ospreys – uncapped)
Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 44 caps)
Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys – 55 caps)
Rio Dyer (Dragons – 3 caps)
Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 97 caps)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 22)
Liam Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 81)