Warren Gatland returns for his first game back as head coach when Wales take on world number one side Ireland at the Principality Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Kiwi’s second spell in charge comes at a turbulent time for Welsh rugby following Wayne Pivac’s sacking, but he will look to steady the ship in this year’s Guinness Six Nations in the lead up to the World Cup in September.
Turnover Of Coaches
Gatland has returned to the helm after a disastrous spell under the leadership of Pivac.
Wales won just 13 of 34 tests under the Kiwi head coach, and suffered a ninth defeat in 12 tests last year when they blew a 21-point lead in the 39-34 loss to Australia in November.
The Welsh public is understandably stirred by the change, after Gatland’s memorable 12 years in charge between 2007 and 2019, in which they won three Six Nations titles, all Grand Slams.
Gatland’s arrival sees the departure of attack coach Stephen Jones and defence coach Gethin Jenkins, bringing in Alex King and Mike Forshaw to replace the respective roles.
In terms of the playing staff, Ken Owens captains, while Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar are also named in the squad.
Warren Gatland’s first side since his recall as head coach blends plenty of old and familiar faces with a splash of youthful exuberance.
Ken Owens captains the team for their clash with Ireland and, alongside Taulupe Faletau, make up the only two starting forwards that don’t ply their trade for Ospreys.
In the second row, veteran and world record cap holder Alun Wyn Jones comes in to play in his 17th Six Nations as he partners teammate Adam Beard.
The big talking point in the pack is the emergence of young flanker Jac Morgan, who has been the standout Welsh player for the last six months and was recently voted Wales Player of the Year for 2022 by the Welsh public in early January.
In the backs Gatland has opted to start winger Leigh Halfpenny for the first time in 19 months with Six Nations debutant Rio Dyer partnering him on the other wing.
Dan Biggar returns after missing the autumn through injury to partner Tomos Williams at half-back and fan favourite George North partners the other Six Nations debutant Joe Hawkins in the centres.
Gatland said: “There’s a mixture in the team of some experience, some younger players. We think we’ve got a bench that can come on and have an impact.
“We’ve only had a couple of weeks together but I’m confident that the guys will go out and give a good account of themselves. They’re pretty excited about playing this first game at home.”
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (c), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Rhys Webb, Owen Williams, Alex Cuthbert.
Wales had a torrid Autumn International window, winning just once over Argentina and suffering losses to Australia, New Zealand and even Georgia.
The 13-12 home loss to Georgia spelled their first ever loss to the Lelos and piled the pressure on Pivac.
Wales won just once in last year’s Six Nations, finishing fifth for the first time since 2007.
- Ireland – Principality Stadium – Saturday, February 4 – 2.15pm (GMT)
- Scotland – Murrayfield – Saturday, February 11 – 4.45pm (GMT)
- England – Principality Stadium – Saturday, February 25 – 4.45pm (GMT)
- Italy – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, March 11 – 2.15pm (GMT)
- France – Stade de France – Saturday, March 18 – 2.45pm (GMT)