By Alan Dymock
THE MOMENT has come. They may have had a horrible autumn and they may have an injury list heavier than a Scott Quinnell sandwich, but Rob Howley and his wounded Wales have now named their Six Nations squad. More than avenging defeats and lost pride, the task facing Wales is much bigger as they embark upon a campaign to back up last season’s championship triumph.
The headline comes as five uncapped players come in almost exclusively to cover the holes. Need has forced the selectors’ hands.
Fizzing winger Eli Walker is rewarded for his good form and wins some time training in the intense environment of an international camp, and he may line up for a first cap against the likes of Italy, and perhaps even Scotland. However, it is in a threadbare pack that wholesale change has been required.
Talented young lock James King of Ospreys is recognised for his recent good form and Andrew Coombs, a solid grafter from the Newport Gwent Dragons are pulled in as second rows, hoping to fill spots vacated by Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies and Alun Wyn Jones. Alongside Lou Reed and Ian Evans there is not so much a formidable test second row as one hoping to convey as much.
Ryan Jones is dealing with a dislocated thumb, twisted during the rip-roaring draw between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers, but he may have to take a turn in the boiler house at some point during the competition and the other specialist back rowers could be pushed to it should the ‘crisis’ intensify. Not that Aaron Shingler would thrive should he be asked to step in. The blindside is a serious contender to start against Ireland on the second of February while the wonderfully gifted Justin Tipuric is also putting serious pressure on captain Sam Warburton.
Uncapped Cardiff Blues pair Josh Navidi and South Africa-born Andries Pretorius also offer Howley and his coaching team of Shaun Edwards, Robin McBryde, Neil Jenkins and Mark Jones something to think about. However, they are likely to be cover for this tournament, at least.
The rest of the squad reads as if a team is already picked, with Boyonne’s Mike Phillips unlikely to be ousted by Tavis Knoyle or Lloyd Williams.
Fly half Dan Biggar, unburdened now he is sure Rhys Patchell will not be trying to wrestle the jersey from his back, will start and James Hook will be his versatile deputy.
Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies will bring the bash and crash in the centres, with Scott Williams covering and new boy Walker and recovering returnee Lee Byrne will likely have to make do with watching a talented trio of Alex Cuthbert, George North and Leigh Halfpenny galloping at the Irish.
Forwards: Scott Andrews (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys) Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys) Lou Reed (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Andries Pretorius (Blues)
Backs: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets) Alex Cuthbert (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont).