Warren Gatland and his coaching team have named the 28-man Wales squad led by captain Matthew Rees to contest the 2011 RBS 6 Nations Championship. The Scarlets hooker is retained at the helm of a squad which includes five uncapped players and is also joined by the fit again contingent of wing Shane Williams, full back Lee Byrne (both Ospreys), centres Jamie Roberts (Blues) and Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) and Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny.
Scarlets playmaker Rhys Priestland is the only uncapped player in the backs and he is joined by three-times capped speedster and fellow Scarlet Morgan Stoddart, making his first squad appearance since facing Canada in 2008.
Sale scrum-half Dwayne Peel is also recalled after missing out in November with the suspended Richie Rees (Blues) making way.
The inclusion of the Scarlets pair, injury comebacks and the reduced size of the squad, means there is no room for Dragons wings Aled Brew or Will Harries, Blues wings Tom James or Chris Czekaj or Ospreys pivot Dan Biggar. From the 35-man squad selected last Autumn Ospreys wing Tom Prydie also misses out with Scarlets flier George North currently also absent through injury.
Up front there are a further four uncapped players with Dragons back row Toby Faletau and Blues prop Scott Andrews retained, but Ospreys prop Ryan Bevington and Scarlets back row Josh Turnbull added to the squad.
Dan Lydiate and fellow flankers Sam Warburton (Blues), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys) and Andy Powell (Wasps) provide more of the back row firepower.
The other back five players are locks Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues) and Ryan Jones (Ospreys), meaning veteran Blues back row Martyn Williams, Ospreys lock Ian Gough are both edged-out on this occasion.
In the front row, Osprey Paul James is also retained alongside regional colleagues Craig Mitchell and Bevington and Blues prop John Yapp.
The two hookers in the reduced squad are captain Rees and Osprey Richard Hibbard, with Hibbard’s regional colleague Huw Bennett losing out.
Mike Phillips (Ospreys) and Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets)are retained alongside Peel to make up the contingent of three scrum-halves .
Scarlets fly-half Stephen Jones keeps his spot and Osprey James Hook – normally a centre but also considered as a fly-half and full-back – joins Roberts and Davies who make their returns at centre at the expense of Tom Shanklin (Blues) and Andrew Bishop (Ospreys) who are both ruled out through injury.
And Gatland is hoping for both a performance and a result the nation can be proud of when next up opponents England visit the Millennium Stadium for the RBS 6 Nations opener in a fortnight’s time.
“We have deliberately kept the squad as small as possible and have reverted back largely to the philosophy we had during the Grand Slam year in 2008,” said Gatland.
“We want to keep intensity levels up in training and have ensured that we are not carrying players with injury. Everyone here is fighting fit and able to take a full part and challenge each other for selection.
“It’s a boost to have one or two players back from injury in the backline with Shane (Williams) and Lee (Byrne) both doubts at one stage and Leigh (Halfpenny) and Jamie (Roberts) returning after being unavailable to us in the Autumn, there’s an exciting look about the backs.
“Up front, its well documented that we have lost a couple of players in the front row, but that gives opportunities to others to put their hands up and we are pleased with the options we have got in the pack.
“The forwards have been going pretty well and we have decided to give a couple of youngsters a chance this tournament but that doesn’t mean there is no way back for those who have missed out.
“We are conscious that we need now to begin to realise our potential and that means winning some games.
“It all starts against England at the Millennium stadium in a fortnight and they don’t come much bigger than that.
“We have a pretty good record against them in recent years and enjoy playing against them, especially at the Millennium Stadium and it is a game that could really set the tone for the season ahead for both sides and in a World Cup year that’s all the at needs to be said.”Wales squad: (forwards) Paul James (Ospreys), John Yapp (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Scott Andrews (Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, capt), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Andy Powell (Wasps), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Dan Lydiate (Dragons).
Backs: Mike Phillips (Ospreys), Dwayne Peel (Sharks), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), James Hook (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Shane Williams (Ospreys), Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Lee Byrne (Ospreys).
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