Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins. Pic: Getty Images.

Warren Gatland Picks Youngest Wales Team For Five Years . . . But Insists: No Pressure, No Fear

By David Williams

Warren Gatland wants the greenest Wales team for five years to forget their lack of know-how and play without fear.

The Wales coach has gone for a youthful team – the most inexperienced Six Nations line-up since 2019 – to open their tournament campaign at home to Scotland on Saturday.

Cardiff full-back Cameron Winnett is handed a Test debut after just 15 games of professional rugby, 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins will lead Wales out as his country’s youngest captain for 56 years, while six of the Wales’ replacements have just 12 caps between them.

The absentees read like a current who’s who of Welsh rugby – George North, Louis Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Dewi Lake, Will Rowlands, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletau, to name just eight.

And the starting XV’s 413 caps has more than half that total shared by only four players in scrum-half Gareth Davies, wing Josh Adams, lock Adam Beard and number eight Aaron Wainwright.

Wales, though, will defend a 22-year unbeaten record against Scotland in Cardiff that comprises nine Six Nations games, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test.

“We are at home and Scotland haven’t won here in Cardiff for a long time,”  said Gatland.

“It is a full stadium and we’ve got a responsibility to go and deliver a performance.

“The enthusiasm of this young group of players has been exceptional over the last few weeks. I am really excited about this group that we’ve got, building with some youngsters who I think are really going to grow, develop and impress.

“Those young players get out there and learn what it is like to play in front of 75,000 people where things are happening quicker than you would normally experience.

“I couldn’t be happier with how they have trained and prepared. Two weeks, the attitudes have been outstanding – no-one has moaned about how hard we have worked.

“Everyone has been vocal and pushed each other. I think we’ve got an average age of 25. I think they can go out there with no fear with the way they have prepared.”

Centre North, who has won 118 caps and is comfortably the most experienced player in Wales’ Six Nations squad, suffered a shoulder injury during the Ospreys’ recent European Challenge Cup victory over South Africa side the Lions.

Gatland, though, allayed any fears surrounding his fitness for next week’s Twickenham appointment with England.

“He is ready to go now. We’ve just made that decision early – we wanted to select the team early,” Gatland added.

“The fact he hadn’t trained much, we could have held on (until) later in the week, but we just wanted to make that call early to give those players the best chance in terms of preparing for Saturday.”

And on Racing 92 lock Rowlands, Gatland said: “Will hasn’t come into the squad yet. His wife had a baby a couple of weeks ago in France, and unfortunately there were some complications.

“So the message to him has been ‘you stay home and be with your family’. We always talk about how important that is, and he will turn up when he is ready.”

Owen Watkin and Nick Tompkins will forge Wales’ midfield partnership, with Winnett’s Cardiff colleague James Botham – grandson of England cricket great Sir Ian Botham – being recalled for a first Wales appearance since July 2021.

Dragons prop Leon Brown also starts, with uncapped Cardiff flanker Alex Mann among the replacements, where former Bristol back Ioan Lloyd provides fly-half cover for Sam Costelow.

“The Six Nations is always about momentum,” Gatland said.

“We are under no illusions that it is going to be a tough game for us, but we can go there being excited about this group of young players.”

Dragons prop Leon Brown also starts, with uncapped Cardiff flanker Alex Mann among the replacements, where former Bristol back Ioan Lloyd provides fly-half cover for Sam Costelow.

At 21, Exeter forward Jenkins is Wales’ youngest skipper since a 20-year-old Gareth Edwards led Wales against Scotland in 1968.

Wales have beaten Scotland 11 times on the bounce in Cardiff, winning nine Six Nations games, a World Cup warm-up fixture and an autumn Test since the Scots triumphed in April 2002.

But Wales are now without the likes of Rees-Zammit, Williams and long-term injured trio Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau and Dewi Lake, while Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny retired from international rugby after the World Cup in France.

Gatland added: “Cameron Winnett is just a lovely footballer, and I think he is going to develop into a quality international player in the future.

“He is young and there will be no pressure on him. It is also great that Alex Mann is on the bench, and will hopefully get his debut as well.

“Scotland haven’t won here in a long, long time, and it is an opportunity for us to continue with that record.

“The (stadium) roof is going to be open.

“Scotland want the roof open, which I think is a little bit disappointing from an atmosphere point of view because when that roof is shut it does tend to create a lot more atmosphere and noise in the stadium. But that is the decision that they made.”

Six Nations regulations state that both teams have to agree in order for the roof to be closed.


Wales team versus Scotland: C Winnett (Cardiff); J Adams (Cardiff), O Watkin (Ospreys), N Tompkins (Saracens), R Dyer (Dragons); S Costelow (Scarlets), G Davies (Scarlets); C Domachowski (Cardiff), R Elias (Scarlets), L Brown (Dragons), D Jenkins (Exeter, capt), A Beard (Ospreys), J Botham (Cardiff), T Reffell (Leicester), A Wainwright (Dragons).

Replacements: E Dee (Dragons), K Mathias (Scarlets), K Assiratti (Cardiff), Teddy Williams (Cardiff), A Mann (Cardiff), Tomos Williams (Cardiff), I Lloyd (Scarlets), M Grady (Cardiff).


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