Gatland squad

Warren Gatland has named a 54-man training squad ahead of the World Cup.

Warren Gatland Claims Wales Shirt ‘Aint What It Used To Be

By Paul Jones

Warren Gatland has warned that Wales’ top teams – including the national side – need to become more successful or else more players will follow Joe Hawkins out of Test rugby.

The Wales coach believes the three regions and Wales all need to improve, otherwise young players like Hawkins could decide to put club before country.

Hawkins has paid a high price for his decision to quit the Ospreys and join Exeter Chiefs next season by being written out of Wales’ World Cup plans and beyond as he falls way below the 25-cap threshold.

The former Wales U20 skipper, picked up five caps last this winter under both Wayne Pivac and Gatland and was one of the success stories of an otherwise underwhelming season in Welsh rugby.

But Gatland is the first to admit that the 20-year-old’s defection to the English Premiership at the end of his first senior season is indicative of the shape in which Welsh rugby finds itself.

Playing for Wales, he claims, is not as big an attraction as it used to be and Hawkins’ decision to head to Exeter is living proof of that fact.

“I think the onus is on us as a national team to be more successful, for the regions to be more successful, so we retain our players and they want to be part of teams which are successful here,” said Gatland.

“We thought Joe was going to be a big part of our future either in the midfield or potentially playing at No 10.

“I’ve talked to Joe two or three times and we are disappointed to be losing someone of his talent and potential for the next few years.

“He’s been offered a pretty significant deal and made the decision to move on. He feels at the moment the decision to play in England will be good for his future, and I respect that.”

“We’ve got to hopefully put things right and there is an opportunity now. The regions have got to deal with the union and put plans in place in terms of moving forward.

“There are a number of issues in terms of our age grade stuff at U18 and 20. That development and working the academies is important.

“I’ve commented on this a number of times in the past. These issues have been here before and we were probably blocking up the dam in terms of them not really coming to the fore because of the success we had.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter signed Hawkins on the basis he would be eligible for Wales, but after the Professional Rugby Board in Wales declared him ineligible, he can now look forward to having him available to play all season.

“Players with more than 25-caps can still be selected even if they play outside Wales, whereas players with fewer caps are not eligible in this circumstance. Call-ups for uncapped players already contracted (before 31/03/2023) outside of Wales are allowed within the policy,” the PRB declared.

“For clarity, we have confirmed Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins (who holds five-caps) therefore has not been found to fit any criteria which would make him available for selection after signing up to play his rugby outside of Wales.

“Dragons lock Will Rowlands (who has 23-caps), who is also due to move outside of the country next season, does remain available for selection this summer as his registration will still be held in Wales during this time.”

Rowands, who is joining Racing 92 next season, missed the Six Nations through injury and needs to play two more internationals to reach the 25-cap threshold.

Wales play three warm-up matches in the summer before heading to France to face Fiji, Portugal, Australia and Georgia in Pool C.

Gatland has included 10 uncapped players in his squad and recalled Japan-based lock Cory Hill from Yokohama Canon Eagles.

He has also used the new World Rugby eligibility laws to include the seven times capped former England prop Henry Thomas in his 54-strong training squad.

Now playing at French champions Montpellier, the 31-year-old Thomas has a Welsh father and last played for England against New Zealand in 2014.

“We spoke to Henry years ago and the big focus for us is on the tight five. He’s been at Montpellier. He was involved with Montpellier winning the league and he brings something different,” said Gatland.

“Jonathan Humphreys reached out and checked if he was available. He qualifies via his Welsh father.

“He was at Sale, then Bath and now he’s at Montpellier. We realised he was available and he’ll give us competition.”

Included among the newcomers is Ospreys full back, Cai Evans, son of current WRU chairman Ieuan Evans, along with Scarlets prop Kemsley Mathias, who gets the nod over clubmate and British & Irish Lions loosehead, Wyn Jones.

Leigh Halfpenny, let go by Scarlets last week, is given the chance to go to another World Cup and pick up the one cap he needs to reach 100 for Wales, is included, but Cardiff back row man Thomas Young, and Dragons front row duo Leon Brown and Bradley are not.

Wales’ preliminary Rugby World Cup squad

Forwards: Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby), Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby), Kemsley Mathias (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Eliott Dee (Dragons), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Dewi Lake (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby), Will Davies-King (Cardiff Rugby), Tomas Francis (Ospreys), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby), Henry Thomas (Montpellier), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Ben Carter (Dragons), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Cory Hill (Yokohama Canon Eagles), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Will Rowlands (Dragons), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Teddy Williams (Cardiff Rugby), Taine Basham (Dragons) Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Josh Macleod (Scarlets), Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons)

Backs: Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Kieran Hardy (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby), Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys), Dan Biggar (Toulon), Sam Costelow (Scarlets), Owen Williams (Ospreys), Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby), Max Llewellyn (Cardiff Rugby), George North (Ospreys), Joe Roberts (Scarlets), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Johnny Williams (Scarlets), Keiran Williams (Ospreys), Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby), Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Cai Evans (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Rogers (Scarlets), Liam Williams (Cardiff Rugby)

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