Gatland springs some surprises
January 18, 2010
Scrum-half Dwayne Peel has been omitted from the Wales squad for this year's Six Nations © Getty Images
Wales coach Warren Gatland has welcomed back some familiar names but cast one eye to the future with his squad for this year's Six Nations.
Fullback Lee Byrne and tight-head prop Adam Jones are among the established names to return for Wales' latest assault on the northern hemisphere crown but Gatland has also named four new caps including two teenagers in untried Ospreys duo - 17-year-old fullback Tom Prydie and 19-year-old winger Kristian Phillips.
However, Wales have suffered an injury blow ahead of their opening clash against England with scrum-half Dwayne Peel ruled out. The Sale Sharks No.9 was due to undergo a scan on Monday after suffering a groin injury in Saturday's Heineken Cup defeat against Cardiff Blues and has not been named in a 35-man squad. With Peel's fellow British & Irish Lion Mike Phillips also sidelined due to injury, Scarlets' scrum-half Martin Roberts is favourite to start at Twickenham on February 6 with the Blues' Gareth Cooper and his uncapped team-mate Richie Rees set to provide competition. The other uncapped player in the squad is Saracens prop Rhys Gill.
There are also places for experienced Ospreys lock Ian Gough, Blues forwards Gareth Williams and Deiniol Jones, together with Sale prop Eifion Lewis-Roberts. The Ospreys (14) and the Blues (13) make up the bulk of the squad which will again be led by Ryan Jones, with the Scarlets providing four players - Matthew Rees, Jonathan Davies, Stephen Jones and Roberts - the Dragons two - Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate - with just two players based outside Wales in Gill and Lewis-Roberts.
"We are now at the beginning of our countdown to the World Cup and this slightly larger squad reflects that," said Gatland. "We have brought in some youngsters to put some pressure on some of our senior players and to help increase the depth we have in certain positions.
"Kristian is a good example of an exciting young player, he has just won the Principality player of the month award and scored five tries in one match for Neath, he is skilful and very quick. Elsewhere we are very happy to welcome back the likes of Adam (Jones) and Lee (Byrne) who were both obviously missed in the Autumn, although at full-back in particular a certain James Hook provided more than ample cover.
"Our first match at Twickenham could set the tone for the Championship for both sides, we will both be desperate to win that first up match. We then come to the Millennium Stadium for two home matches and the support we have there will make a huge difference to us."
Gatland admitted the injury to Peel caused concern and revealed that they would monitor the recovery of Peel and Phillips who is battling an ankle injury. "We are not 100% sure how long Dwayne Peel will be out for," Gatland told the BBC. "We're just going to assess him over the next few weeks. Mike Phillips may return for possibly the third or fourth game. But he needs a few games under his belt as he has just started running. It is a position where we have a couple of key players that are injured. Gareth [Cooper] has been part of the squad but has not been selected as a first-choice for the Blues so it is a little bit of a concern for us. Rees' service is pretty good, he is a threat around the fringes and he is pretty physical. We have been impressed with the way he has developed and his decision-making has improved."
Gatland also urged his side to show the mental strength required to win when it matters after a much-hyped autumn campaign ended with defeats to New Zealand and Australia and unimpressive victories against Samoa and Argentina. "The Welsh love to be underdogs," he added. "We have to develop as a squad off the field and that means coping with expectation. Players have to be able to cope with pressure, a bridge Ireland have crossed. The Irish players look at the Welsh and, while they think our players might be better physically and in terms of skill, they do not think that when it comes to mental strength. That is something we have to hone in on, but it does not happen overnight. It is something we have to look at, and not be afraid to talk about the 'winning' word, which we tend to shy away from."
Wales squad for the 2010 Six Nations Championship:
Backs: D Biggar (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys), L Byrne (Ospreys), G Cooper (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), T James (Cardiff Blues), S Jones (Scarlets), K Phillips (Ospreys), T Prydie (Ospreys), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), M Roberts (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys).
Forwards: H Bennett (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), R Gill (Saracens), I Gough (Ospreys), P James (Ospreys), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), D Jones (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (captain), E Lewis-Roberts (Sale) , D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), J Thomas (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), G Williams (Cardiff Blues), M Williams (Cardiff Blues).
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