It is incredibly exciting – Warren Gatland relishing what lies ahead for Wales

By Sports Desk January 25, 2024

Wales will go into the Guinness Six Nations with a new-look squad containing five international rookies and a 21-year-old captain.

But head coach Warren Gatland believes it is “incredibly exciting” as his players embark on the long road towards World Cup 2027 in Australia.

Although the last World Cup finished just four months ago, only 18 of that 33-strong squad feature for a Six Nations campaign that Wales kick off against Scotland before facing successive appointments away from home with England and Ireland.

The list of absentees is startling, highlighted by wing Louis Rees-Zammit’s career switch to American football, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny retiring from Test rugby and Liam Williams now playing in Japan.

There are tournament-ending injuries to the likes of World Cup co-captains Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, plus number eight Taulupe Faletau, with France-based props Tomas Francis and Henry Thomas also missing out.

The uncapped contingent comprises Cardiff quartet Cameron Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin, in addition to Bath prop Archie Griffin, while almost half the squad have eight caps or fewer.

It could well be a case of short-term pain leading to long-term gain for Wales, but Gatland is relishing what lies ahead.

“It is incredibly exciting,” said Gatland, who named Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins as his skipper. “If you look at the squad we have got some talent, we’ve got some experience there from players we had with us at the World Cup.

“We have lost a lot of experience, but it is a new cycle for us to go through. We probably need a little bit of time and a little bit of patience from the Welsh public.

“I hope they can see that given some time together we can develop a squad over the next few years.

“I think this for us, looking at Wales having such a small group of players in terms of a Tier One nation, it is something that we need to plan and look at how we implement that plan over the next three or four years.

“Some of that is doing it right from the start. I think that despite all the negativity around Welsh rugby I think there are a lot of positives.

“There are a lot of negatives financially, but the financial challenges mean that we are giving opportunities to lots of youngsters that we may not have seen a few years ago, and for me that is a massive positive.

“We are not going to benefit in the short term, but I think that in the next three or four years we are going to benefit from us giving them those chances.

“Despite what people are talking about, the financial challenges, I see it differently as a real positive and a real chance for a reset in Welsh rugby that is going to put us in good stead over the next few years.”

With Biggar having departed the Test scene, considerable attention will focus on his fly-half successor – 22-year-old Sam Costelow – and his fellow squad number 10s Ioan Lloyd and Cai Evans.

Gatland added: “We are pleased with the progression of Sam in the time that he has been with us, but he has still got a little bit of learning.

“With Ioan it has probably been a little bit difficult for him over the last couple of seasons in terms of nailing down a position. He has played a lot of 10, he can cover 15 as well.

“The important thing for him is just to be playing regularly in one or two positions, and we are also thinking we can spend some time with Cai Evans in terms of giving him a little bit of time in that 10 position just to give us an option.”

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