Former-Scarlets head coach, Wayne Pivac, selects five uncapped players in his 38-man squad for his first Six Nations Campaign.
The squad, who kick off their campaign against Italy in Cardiff, have selected a strong team, despite notable Welsh exemptions through injury.
Jonathan Davies, who was nominated as the Lions player of the series in 2017, misses the campaign through injury. As does his brother, James Davies. Fellow Scarlet, Rhys Patchell, also misses out.
Gareth Anscombe, the Ospreys fly-half, who started in all but one of Wales’ grand slam games last season will also miss the Six Nations through an injury he picked up in Wales’ Rugby World Cup warm up match at Twickenham.
To add to the problems Wales have in the back-line, Hallam Amos and New Zealand-born Willis Hallaholo, both of the Cardiff Blues, are unable to pull on the red jersey.
Fellow Kiwi, Jonny McNicholl has been selected in the squad, and may win his first career despite playing and scoring for Wales against the Barbarians last December.
To fill the void, Pivac has turned to young talent in Wales, and to some who are playing in the Gallagher Premiership.
Among the 21-forwards, four currently playing in England. The former Cardiff Blue, Rhys Carrè earned his first cap during the Rugby World Cup warm ups, and is currently playing for defending champions Saracens.
The second is WillGriff John, of Sale Sharks. The tight-head prop moved to the Salford-based club after playing for Pontypridd, Cardiff, Northland in New Zealand and Doncaster. Given the injury to first choice tight-head Tomas Francis, the 20-stone, in form exile may be just the man to strengthen the Welsh pack.
The third forward coming across the Severn Bridge is the London-born, lock Will Rowlands. The Oxford blue has been at Dai Young’s club since 2014 and is eligible to play for Wales through his father.
The final forward is 72-time capped Bath number eight, Taulupe Faletau. The Tongan-born cousin of the Vunipola brothers hasn’t pulled on the red jersey since Wales’ narrow victory against France in 2018.
Among the backline 7 players play outside of Wales. However, only two will be fresh faces within the Welsh squad that will train at The Vale Resort in Glamorgan.
Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit has stamps his mark on the Gallagher Premiership, scoring nine-tries in all competitions for the Cherry and Whites. The Cardiff-born exile was rewarded for his performances at Kingsholm with December’s player of the month.
Possibly more surprising is the inclusion of Nick Tompkins. In 2016 the Saracens centre lifted the Junior Rugby World Cup trophy in the white of England. He even played one game for the Saxons which usually rules a player out of opting for another nation. However, that test was against South Africa A who are not the SARU’s designated second team.
Tompkins qualifies because of his Wrexham-born grandmother, and he made clear that with his cousins living in Cardiff he ‘always felt part Welsh and part English.’
The five remaining exiles in the backline are all capped players, with Dan Biggar accumulating 79 caps since his debut against Canada in 2008.
Liam Williams, who is set to return to Parc Y Scarlets in September, is also selected in the 38-man squad, despite recovering from an injury picked up in Japan.
On three caps are Owen Williams and Jonah Holmes, who both played at Leicester Tigers until Williams moved to Kingsholm in 2017.
The final exile is Rhys Webb. The 31-year old hasn’t had the best time at Toulon. Upon the news he would be returning to Swansea next season, Toulon’s owner lambasted the Lion saying he would never wear the Toulon jersey again.
After Wales play Italy in Cardiff they travel to Dublin to face Ireland, a team that haven’t beaten away from home since 2015.
After a short break the side will face France in Cardiff. French defence coach, Shaun Edwards, will return to the Principality Stadium, a venue he called home for 11-years.
The penultimate game sees Wales and England lock horns at Twickenham. This fixture is the most tightly contested rivalry in world rugby. Over the 134-games played, Wales have been victorious in 59, England in 63 with 12 draws.
Wales’ tournament concludes in Cardiff against a Scotland side led by Exeter Chief, Stuart Hogg. Wales have dominated the fixtures contested between the two sides for some time, with Scotland’s last victory in Cardiff coming in 2002, when their coach, Gregor Townsend, was still a player.
The full Welsh squad for the 2020 Six Nations:
Forwards: Rhys Carre, Rob Evans, Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Ken Owens, Leon Brown, WillGriff John, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands, Cory Hill, Aaron Shingler, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric.
Backs: Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Owen Williams, Jarrod Evans, Hadleigh Parkes, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, George North, Josh Adams, Owen Lane, Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonah Holmes, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.
10 Scarlets, 7 Blues, 5 Dragons, 5 Ospreys, 11 Exiles.
By J Walters