Wales are hopeful the return of Warren Gatland can change their fortunes after a dreadful 2022, which started with an underwhelming Six Nations title defence and finished with gut-wrenching losses to Georgia and Australia.
Here’s all you need to know about a Wales squad hopeful of getting back on track in the Six Nations.
Rhys Carre (Cardiff), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets, capt), Bradley Roberts (Dragon), Leon Brown (Dragons), Tomas Francis (Ospreys), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Rhys Davies (Ospreys), Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Teddy Williams (Cardiff), Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff), Jac Morgan (Ospreys), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).
Kieran Hardy (Scarlets), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Tomos Williams (Cardiff), Dan Biggar (Toulon), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Owen Williams (Ospreys), Mason Grady (Cardiff), Joe Hawkins (Ospreys), George North (Ospreys), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Keiran Williams (Ospreys), Josh Adams (Cardiff), Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys), Rio Dyer (Dragons), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), Liam Williams (Cardiff).
Warren Gatland became Wales’ most successful coach during his previous 12-year reign, which ended in 2019 when he was replaced by Wayne Pivac.
It was always going to be tough to fill Gatland’s shoes, the 59-year-old having guided Wales to four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, two Rugby World Cup semi-finals and the top of the world rankings.
Since leaving Wales, Gatland has coached Super Rugby side The Chiefs and took charge of the British & Irish Lions for their 2021 tour of South Africa.
The vastly experienced New Zealander hasn’t been able to bring his old coaching staff back together and has instead named Alex King as attack coach, while Sale Sharks’ Mike Forshaw will take charge of the defence.
15. Liam Williams
14. Alex Cuthbert
13. George North
12. Nick Tompkins
11. Josh Adams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Tomos Williams
8. Taulupe Faletau
7. Justin Tipuric
6. Jac Morgan
5. Alun Wyn Jones
4. Adam Beard
3. Tomas Francis
2. Ken Owens
1. Gareth Thomas
There’s a wealth of experience in the squad, both in terms of the coaching and the players, with 24 of the 37-man squad having received at least ten caps.
Many of the current squad were part of the side that came within a whisker of doing the Grand Slam in 2021, and with Gatland at the helm - a man famous for conjuring title-winning sides from thin air - they shouldn’t be underestimated.
Wales also have a good crop of players heading into the Six Nations who are in form for their club side. Ospreys, who have 15 players in the Wales squad, have recently pulled off some big wins in the Champions Cup, while Scarlets have been stacking the wins domestically and in Europe.
Experience tends to come with age and many of Wales’ best players, particularly amongst the forwards, are past their peak.
The Welsh pack is limited when stacked up against its rivals, lacking the power to match Ireland and France, while a chronic absence of ball-carrying forwards remains an area of concern.
A drop off in production defensively and a lack of depth in certain positions are just two more issues on Gatland’s laundry list of problems he faces on his return to Wales.
Six Nations: Ireland squad profile
Six Nations: France squad profile
Six Nations: England squad profile
Six Nations: Scotland squad profile
An icon of Welsh rugby, Alun Wyn Jones is still going strong at 37 years old with his tenacity, experience and leadership highly valued by Gatland.
Although no longer at the peak of his powers, Wyn Jones, who holds the record for international Test caps at 155, still has plenty to offer, both on and off the field.
He’s formed a solid second row partnership with Adam Beard at club level and with Will Rowlands ruled out of the Six Nations through injury, the Ospreys duo will be key to the Welsh pack.
Gloucester speedster Louis Rees-Zammit will sit out the first two games of the Six Nations with an ankle injury and the raw pace of the tournament’s fastest player will be sorely missed from the Wales backline.
With a 100m time of 10.69 seconds, the 21-year-old’s turn of foot can prove deadly if given the room to run, capable of making the most of any rogue kick that comes his way.
Rees-Zammit still has plenty to learn but demonstrated his versatility by playing at full-back in the autumn internationals, proving capable under the high ball with a decent kicking game to boot.
Dubbed the most complete player Wales has ever produced, Justin Tipuric and his blue scrum hat can often appear to be everywhere on the field.
Tipuric’s play at the breakdown and his superb tackling success rate make him key to the Welsh defence, but he’s shown himself to be equally as effective when Wales are going forward, demonstrating a great turn of foot and range of passing.
The flanker reads the game better than most and enters the Six Nations in fine form after a string of great displays for Ospreys recently.
Competition for places is fierce in the back row, but Jac Morgan may have done enough for Ospreys this season and Wales in the autumn to snatch the blindside position after a breakthrough year in 2022.
The 23-year-old, dubbed a “one man wrecking machine” by Gatland, is the type of physical ball carrier Wales have often missed from their pack and is a valuable contributor on both sides of the ball.
Morgan’s Ospreys team-mate Owen Williams is another to keep an eye on. There’s little doubt over Dan Biggar being the first-choice scrum-half but Williams is waiting in the wings, primed to finally take his chance.
Williams has previously won three caps but his inability to establish himself at club level has hindered his international hopes.
Williams has led Ospreys to wins over Leicester and Montpellier recently with some intelligent performances and could be crucial for Wales coming off the bench in games if he can maintain those levels.
Only England (7) have won more Six Nations titles than Wales (6) and the latter are 10/1 to draw level with their fiercest rivals by claiming the championship for a fifth time under Gatland’s guidance.
A fifth Grand Slam of the Six Nations era is priced at 33/1, but could prove a tall order with three of Wales’ five games taking place away from Cardiff.
They do host two of their three rivals for the Triple Crown though in England and Ireland and are 10/1 for that honour.
If the situation doesn’t improve markedly under Gatland then Wales could end up claiming the Wooden Spoon at 8/1 for only the second time in Six Nations history.