Six Nations 2024: New-look Wales squad look to emerge from shadow of Louis Rees-Zammit exit

Six Nations 2024- New-look Wales squad look to emerge from shadow of Louis Rees-Zammit exit

Wales head coach Warren Gatland named a Six Nations squad on Tuesday. With the hysteria of Louis Rees-Zammit’s sensational switch from rugby to try to break into the NFL, you might have missed it.

There are 34 players left to concentrate on for a tournament which starts with a home game against Scotland on Saturday, 3 February.

At first glance, the selection is one of the most inexperienced and unproven Wales squads in living memory, certainly the most under Gatland.

A more forensic analysis pretty much reveals the same as the new class of 2024 aim to impress.

Wales squad for 2024 Six Nations

Forwards: Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown, Archie Griffin, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins, Will Rowlands, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, James Botham, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.

Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Cai Evans, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Tom Rogers, Cameron Winnett.

The make-up

There are 19 forwards and 15 backs in a squad with an average age of 25. Five new caps in Cardiff quartet Cameron Winnett, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Evan Lloyd and Bath prop Archie Griffin.

The breakdown from the regions is Cardiff 11, Scarlets eight, Dragons six and Ospreys four with five England-based players.

Scarlets, who have lost 10 out of 12 games this season, have double the number of squad members compared to leading Welsh region Ospreys, who admittedly have a quota of injured Wales players.

Those absent are almost as revealing as any surprise inclusions. We knew household names would be missing, but not seeing them in the black and white of a Six Nations squad hammers it home.

Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny have retired from international rugby. Liam Williams is missing after signing for a club in Japan, Gareth Anscombe is also absent.

Dan Lydiate is not involved, Tomas Francis misses the tournament although he has not retired from international rugby. Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan, and Taulupe Faletau are injured. Some heavyweight heroes missing, to say the least.

Lock Dafydd Jenkins was hailed as “an incredible professional” by Gatland after being appointed Wales captain at the age of 21.

The Exeter lock will lead his country having taken over from injured World Cup co-captains Morgan and Lake.

Jenkins’ elevation comes following a successful spell helping to steer Exeter into Gallagher Premiership title contention and clinching an Investec Champions Cup round-of-16 place.

He is now in line to become the second youngest men’s player to lead Wales in a match after Sir Gareth Edwards captained his country aged 20 in 1968. That is if Jenkins can oust World Cup first-choice lock duo Adam Beard and Will Rowlands.

Full-backs Halfpenny and Liam Williams have been permanent fixtures in the Wales number 15 shirt for more than a decade.

For all the Rees-Zammit headlines, Wales have lost the option of asking him to fulfil the role.

Winnett, 21, is the young specialist option, but sustained a jaw injury against Harlequins last Saturday and is a doubt for the opening games.

Cai Evans plays at 15 for Dragons, but is also considered a fly-half option, while Scarlets’ Tom Rogers has full-back experience.

Another option would be Josh Adams slotting in at the back, leaving Mason Grady and Rio Dyer as wing options.

Exeter’s Cardiff-born wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso has been named in the England squad with Gatland revealing he had not personally spoken to the medical student, but the player had told Wales defence coach Mike Forshaw he “wanted to go down the English route”.

Grady can also feature at centre with four specialist midfield options named in World Cup pairing Nick Tompkins and George North with Joe Roberts and the recalled Owen Watkin as Keiran Williams, Johnny Williams and Max Llewellyn are overlooked.

With Biggar and Anscombe missing, responsibility for the fabled number 10 jersey could be handed to Sam Costelow.

His injury absence after the World Cup has allowed Scarlets team-mate Ioan Lloyd to prosper for his region, prompting an international recall, while Evans is also an option.

Callum Sheedy’s recent knee injury was not a factor in the Bristol fly-half being overlooked.

So can Costelow and co cope with the pressure of Wales rugby’s most famous shirt and emulate the goal-kicking accuracy of Biggar and Halfpenny?

“That’s why we’ve thrown them into the deep end, we’ve got a chance to develop them,” said Gatland.

“It’s going to take time. We are pleased with Sam’s progression in the time he’s been with us, but he’s still got learnings.

“With Ioan it’s been difficult over the last couple of seasons nailing down a position. He’s played a lot of 10 and can cover 15 also. The important thing is to be playing regularly in one or two positions.

“We can spend time with Cai in terms of that 10 position, to give us an option, probably out of all the players he’s the one with the best goal kicking stats, and got a big boot.

“We are probably lacking a bit currently with some of the quality we’ve lost from a kicking perspective.

“It’s going to take work from Neil Jenkins, working with those players and getting them up to speed.”

More consistency exists in the scrum-half department with established trio Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies and Kieran Hardy named.

Front-row issues

This is probably the most concerning department, especially in experience terms with uncapped duo Lloyd and Griffin surprising most observers.

Loose-head props Gareth Thomas and Corey Domachowski continue from the World Cup, while Kemsley Mathias replaces the injured Nicky Smith as Rhys Carre continues to be overlooked.

Tight-head prop has had the most overhaul with World Cup trio Francis, Henry Thomas and Dillon Lewis not included.

Francis is unavailable for this campaign following his move to Provence, while Lewis has been omitted despite playing for Harlequins, one of Europe’s in-form sides.

This leaves Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown and Griffin with 25 caps between them and Brown having 23 of those.

Griffin, 22, was born in Sydney and plays for Bath where he is currently third-choice. He qualifies through his father and has represented Wales at age-grade level.

Lake’s absence means Cardiff hooker Lloyd has been selected ahead of Sam Parry and Bradley Roberts behind established duo Ryan Elias and Elliot Dee.

Like Lake, Lloyd is a converted back row. The 22-year-old has little first-team experience with no senior starts and six appearances as a replacement behind Cardiff captain Liam Belcher.

Back five formula

Locks Jenkins, Beard and Rowlands are joined by Teddy Williams, while there is a recall for James Botham and the inclusion of his Cardiff team-mates Mann and Martin in the back-row resources.

Taine Basham is retained despite being out of favour at Dragons, while Gatland said Ospreys’ teenage sensation Morgan Morse was considered.

Wales have been cursed by injuries to Faletau, Taine Plumtree, Christ Tshiunza and Josh Macleod, while uncapped number eight Morgan Morris is sidelined.

This leaves Aaron Wainwright and Tommy Reffell destined to start in the back row. Who will join them?

What Gatland says

“Despite all the negativity around Welsh rugby, there are positives and I am excited,” said Gatland.

“There are negatives financially, but those challenges mean we are giving opportunities to youngsters we may not have seen a few years ago.

“We are not going to benefit short-term, but in the next three or four years we will. This is a chance for a Welsh rugby reset to put us in good stead over the next few years.

“There’s experience in terms of players like George North and Gareth Davies, we wanted some continuity.

“We’re also thinking about the next World Cup and giving youngsters an opportunity, youngsters not featuring regularly for club sides.

“It’s about going back to honing basics, almost starting again.

“You have to reset in terms of goals and what we want to achieve. We’ve lost lots of experience, but it’s a new cycle. We need a bit of patience from the Welsh public.

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

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