Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland has named an experienced 32-man squad to defend the RBS 6 Nations title as his side look to create history in 2014.
Led by captain Sam Warburton , the back-to-back Champions will aim to become the first side to win the title outright three years in succession.
The squad, which features 28 players who have been part of Championship winning squads, will meet up at the WRU National Centre of Excellence in the Vale of Glamorgan on Monday 20th January to prepare for their tournament opening clash againt Italy at the Millennium Stadium. The front-row features three British and Irish Lions in Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins alongside Scarlets quartet Ken Owen, Emyr Phillips, Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee. They are joined by Bath prop Paul James and Ospreys’ Ryan Bevington.
The second-row includes Andrew Coombs , who made his debut in last season’s competition along with fellow Championship winners Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Ian Evans. The back-row resources see Ospreys pair Justin Tipuric and Ryan Jones, Toby Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Scarlets’ Aaron Shingler named alongside skipper Warburton.
At half-back Rhodri Williams , who made his debut in the Dove Men Series is named along with Ospreys’ Rhys Webb who returns to the International scene after injury and Racing Metro’s Mike Phillips. The Heineken Cup’s top points scorer Dan Biggar, Scarlets fly-half Rhys Priestland and Perpignan’s James Hook are named amongst thirteen backs. Five further British and Irish Lions are named with Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Alex Cuthbert, George North and Leigh Halfpenny joining Scarlets pair Scott Williams and Liam Williams.
After watching Rob Howley lead Wales to the title in 2013, Gatland is excited to return to Six Nations action and is looking forward to the challenge of defending the title.
“Last year was a fantastic year and I’m really excited to be back involved and this year is going to be a big challenge for us,” said Gatland. “We have got an opportunity to create history and that is something we will focus on and something that will give us extra motivation. We have got the three games at home and two tough away games but when we won the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 we had these fixtures so we know it can be done.
“The Six Nations is always a tough competition, you need a little bit of luck and momentum and that’s why we need to start well against Italy first up. Talking to the coaches we were a little bit slow starting last year and we know we need to start well on February 1st. We’ve picked a pretty experienced squad and kept it fairly tight at this stage.
“There is a possibility we may add one or two players in, there are a few younger guys that need a bit of rugby so we were keen for them to stay with the regions. Perhaps after the first couple of rounds when they have some more rugby under their belts we may add them into the squad.
“As we did last year which was hugely successful we are going to have the Wales U20 squad come in on Tuesday to train with us and we both got a huge amount from that. It gives us plenty of bodies and a good chance for those boys to come and train with the senior squad.
“One of the things we have tried to create is an environment where the players look forward to coming into the national team, we are blessed with some of the best facilities and the best stadium in the world so there is no lack of motivation for the players when they come in to the squad.
“We know there are some politics going on at the moment but we will put that to one side, come together as a group and focus on the rugby and what we can control.
“We can’t wait to kick off the tournament at home against Italy.
“We have got three matches at home, the Scotland match has already sold-out, there are just some single tickets left for France and Italy is not too far from being sold out as well so the atmosphere will be great. There is nothing better than playing in the best stadium in world with the Welsh fans behind us singing.”
WALES SQUAD 2014 RBS 6 NATIONS:
Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton Capt (Cardiff Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets)
Rhodri Williams (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets).