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Six Nations: Warren Gatland names Ken Owens as Wales captain

Warren Gatland has chosen to shake things up with his first squad back in the Wales job, with Ken Owens named as captain for the Six Nations.

The Kiwi, who returned to replace compatriot Wayne Pivac in December, has also included four uncapped players in his 37-man squad - Cardiff duo Teddy Williams and Mason Grady plus Ospreys’ pair Rhys Davies and Kieran Williams.

After winning the 2021 edition, Wales finished fifth in last year's Six Nations, famously losing 22-21 at home to Italy on the final weekend to end the Azzurri's 36-game losing streak in the competition.

Gatland previously coached the side between 2007 and 2019, winning the Championship on four occasions, including leading the team to Grand Slams in 2008, 2012 and 2019.

They begin their 2023 campaign at home to Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday 4th February and the 59-year-old has hinted that he is keen to experiment with an eye on his squad for the World Cup.

WhatSix Nations 2023
WhereTwickenham, Stade de France, Aviva Stadium, Stadio Olimpico, Murrayfield, Millennium Stadium
WhenSaturday 4th February - Saturday 18th March
How to watchBBC and ITV
OddsIreland 11/8, France 6/4, England 9/2, Wales 14/1, Scotland 20/1, Italy 500/1

Owens to lead Gatland's side

Hooker Owens has 86 caps for his country and toured with the British & Lions to New Zealand in 2017 and South Africa in 2021.

The 36-year-old replaces Justin Tipuric, who took over from Dan Biggar in the autumn after the Toulon man guided the team through last year's Six Nations and the summer series in South Africa.

Both fly-half Biggar and flanker Tipuric are in the squad, but Gatland says Owens' "outstanding" Autumn Nations Series was significant in him being awarded the captaincy.

The returning boss says the Scarlets man is one of the first names on his teamsheet but insists that should not dissuade Dewi Lake and Bradley Roberts from pushing him hard.

Gatland has suggested that he could rotate the captaincy in the build-up to the World Cup with an eye on how the team move forward beyond the tournament in France, but is confident that Owens will shine due to his pride in the shirt, popularity and "outstanding intellect".

Biggar is among those recalled alongside Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb, Rhys Carre, Rhys Patchell, Aaron Wainwright and Owen Williams, but Ross Moriarty, prop Nicky Smith and hooker Ryan Elias are absent.

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Williams evokes Gibbs comparisons

Gatland has hinted that the new faces will be given plenty of game time, suggesting that he wants to avoid arriving at the World Cup and suffering a spate of injuries and having to throw in several youngsters, as happened in 2015.

Grady could be phased in gradually, but fellow three-quarter Kieran Williams is in with a chance of making the matchday squad against Ireland.

Gatland has compared the Ospreys' centre to Scott Gibbs and admitted he has a "great opportunity" to impress.

Forwards Davies and Teddy Williams could also get minutes, with the boss admitting he wants to build depth in the second row, especially with Wyn Jones likely to retire after the tournament in France.

Thomas added to the coaching staff

Another piece of news to emerge on Tuesday was the appointment of Jonathan Thomas as an assistant coach, responsible for contact.

The former Worcester head coach, who won 67 caps for Wales and represented his country at the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, also previously worked with Bristol Bears.

Former forward Thomas says he is "delighted" to have fulfilled his "ambition" as a coach to be part of the international set-up, having been part of every Six Nations squad between 2004 and 2011.

Six Nations a stepping stone for Gatland

Gatland was characteristically clever and coy with his answers in Tuesday's press conference, tantalising the press by just giving them enough to work with while ignoring other issues.

Many of the questions asked at Tuesday's briefing centred on whether Gatland will sacrifice the Six Nations in order to blend a squad in time for the World Cup, a tournament his team are 25/1 To Win Outright.

He hinted that he considered doing something Pivac never did by banishing several ageing players, with part of his focus on the "bigger picture" of the World Cup.

However, he also said the opener against Ireland is a "great game" for his team but that it will be "a bit tougher" to win an immediate Grand Slam like in 2008.

Wales are 15/8 to beat Ireland in the Full Time Result market, with Andy Farrell's side 4/9 to win at the Principality Stadium.

But, to leave one last bit of intrigue hanging over the public forum, when quizzed on whether winning the Six Nations - available at 14/1 To Win Outright - is doable, he added that "anything is possible".

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