With a raft of changes, the Wales squad has something of the unpredictable about it. So it will be sink or swim for Warren Gatland's men in the Six Nations?
Wales Six Nations Squad
Warren Gatland has made seven changes to his Wales starting XV to take on France in the final round of the Six Nations this weekend.
Alun Wyn Jones returns to lead the side with Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Josh Navidi also coming back into the pack.
In the back-line, Leigh Halfpenny starts at full-back with Liam Williams moving to the wing, while Dan Biggar gets the nod at fly-half and Scott Williams starts at outside-centre.
UPDATED: Wales Team to play France in Six Nations – Saturday 17 March
Halfpenny; North, S Williams, Parkes, L Williams; Biggar, G Davies; R Evans, Owens, Francis, Hill, AW Jones (capt), Tipuric, Navidi, Faletau.
Replacements: Dee, Smith, Lee, B Davies, Shingler, A Davies, Anscombe, S Evans.
Related: Wales v Italy report
Wales Team to play Italy in Six Nations – Sunday 11 March
L Williams; North, Watkins, Parkes, S Evans; Anscombe, G Davies; Smith, Dee, Francis, Hill, B Davies, Tipuric, J Davies, Faletau (capt).
Replacements: Owens, R Evans, Lee, S Davies, Jenkins, A Davies, Patchell, Halfpenny.
Related: Ireland v Wales report
Wales Team to play Ireland in Six Nations – Saturday 24 February
Halfpenny; L Williams, S Williams, Parkes, S Evans; Biggar, G Davies; R Evans, Owens, Lee, Hill, AW Jones (capt), Shingler, Navidi, Moriarty.
Replacements: Dee, W Jones, Francis, B Davies, Tipuric, A Davies, Anscombe, North.
Related: England v Wales report
Wales Team to play England in Six Nations – Saturday 10 February
Wales: Halfpenny; Adams, Williams, Parkes, S Evans; Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, Owens, Lee, Hill, AW Jones (captain), Shingler, Navidi, Moriarty.
Replacements: Dee, W Jones, Francis, B Davies, Tipuric, A Davies, Anscombe, North
Check out all Wales Six Nations Fixtures.
Related: Wales v Scotland Match Report
Fate is not smiling on Welsh rugby, with no less than eight front-line players out of contention for the opening Six Nations match against Scotland on 3 February. The absent include a number of British & Irish Lions in half-backs Dan Biggar (shoulder) and Rhys Webb (knee), centre Jonathan Davies (foot) and flanker Sam Warburton (neck).
Related: Six Nations TV Coverage
Two more 2017 Lions, Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau, are likely to miss opening rounds with abdominal and leg injuries respectively, while lock Jake Ball (shoulder) will miss the whole tournament. Rhys Priestland, the expected back-up to Biggar, is out of the reckoning too with a hamstring injury.
One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity and one or more of Rhys Patchell, Owen Williams and Gareth Anscombe, with 19 caps between them compared to Biggar’s 60, might now take centre stage in a way they couldn’t have imagined before last weekend’s Ospreys fixture.
On a positive note, any side led by Alun Wyn Jones will not go down lightly. The warrior will have trusted lieutenants around him in Justin Tipuric and Ken Owens, the latter part of a well-represented Scarlets side that has built on last year’s Guinness Pro12 title by qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.
The inclusion of uncapped Scarlets flanker James Davies is long overdue, although better late than never, while wing Josh Adams’s selection, after some free-scoring form in the English Premiership, is also reward for outstanding current form. Cardiff Blues’ Tomas Williams has since become a third uncapped player in the squad, being added after Webb’s setback.
With the absence of Jonathan Davies, autumn debutants Hadleigh Parkes and 50-capper Scott Williams provide midfield options, and it seems Jamie Roberts’s distinguished international career may be over. The Harlequins centre, three appearances shy of 100 caps when you add in Lions Tests, has been tremendous in domestic rugby this season but cannot make the squad even with others unavailable.
In part, that is a desire to plough on with the more liberal style of rugby that Wales adopted last year, and which saw them trouble Australia, New Zealand and South Africa last autumn, albeit that only one of those games was won.
Wales’ fourth autumn fixture, the turgid struggle against Georgia, highlighted deficiencies and, in what is expected to be a more keenly contested championship than usual, it’s difficult to say whether the Dragons will run teams ragged with glorious abandon or suffer one humiliation after another. With trips to Twickenham and Dublin in rounds two and three, an unexpected title success would have to be earned the hard way.
Speaking of the two uncapped players named in the initial squad, Gatland said: “It’s an exciting opportunity for them. James’s form over the last couple of years has been impressive; he’s in a competitive area but we look forward to seeing what he can do. For Josh it’s a great opportunity; he’s been on great form and the back three is somewhere we are looking to create depth in.
“We have included a couple of players who are carrying injuries. It’s useful to have experienced guys around camp and to have them included and to work with them.”
The squad suggests the coaching staff have an eye on the 2019 World Cup, Gatland saying: “We have selected a larger squad and it’s an opportunity for us to work with a wider group and continue building for the next 18 months. It’s important to have a group of players who are used to the environment, know what is expected and are familiar with things, and that will really benefit us going forward.
“Last autumn was about exposing and developing players as part of the two-year countdown to the World Cup; the next couple of months are about testing those players in tournament rugby – we know how important the Six Nations is.”
Wales Six Nations Squad
Aled Davies (Scarlets, 5 caps)
Gareth Davies (Scarlets, 27 caps)
Rhys Webb (Ospreys, 31 caps)
Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues, 11 caps)
Dan Biggar (Ospreys, 60 caps)
Rhys Patchell (Scarlets, 5 caps)
Rhys Priestland (Bath, 50 caps)
Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets, 1 cap)
Owen Watkin (Ospreys, 2 caps)
Owen Williams (Gloucester, 3 caps)
Scott Williams (Scarlets, 51 caps)
Josh Adams (Worcester, uncapped)
Hallam Amos (Dragons, 15 caps)
Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues, 47 caps)
Steff Evans (Scarlets, 5 caps)
Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets, 74 caps)
George North (Northampton, 69 caps)
Liam Williams (Saracens, 45 caps)
Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues, uncapped) *
Rob Evans (Scarlets, 20 caps)
Wyn Jones (Scarlets, 5 caps)
Nicky Smith (Ospreys, 16 caps)
Scott Baldwin (Ospreys, 34 caps)
Elliot Dee (Dragons, 2 caps)
Ken Owens (Scarlets, 52 caps)
Tomas Francis (Exeter, 26 caps)
Samson Lee (Scarlets, 34 caps)
Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues, 2 caps)
Adam Beard (Ospreys, 2 caps)
Bradley Davies (Ospreys, 57 caps)
Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues, 3 caps)
Cory Hill (Dragons, 10 caps)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, captain, 113 caps)
James Davies (Scarlets, uncapped)
Taulupe Faletau (Bath, 70 caps)
Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, 5 caps)
Ross Moriarty (Gloucester, 17 caps)
Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues, 7 caps)
Aaron Shingler (Scarlets, 13 caps)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, 52 caps)
* Added to the squad because of injuries
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