Worcester Warriors wing Josh Adams has been handed his first call-up to the Wales squad for next month’s Six Nations after being rewarded for his fantastic form in the Premiership this season, with Warren Gatland also naming injured duo George North and Taulupe Faletau.
Adams is the current top try scorer in the Premiership with nine tries to his name this season and could well be handed his debut when Wales take on Scotland on the opening weekend in three weeks’ time, given the side's numerous injury concerns.
As a result, Gatland has named a 39-man squad, although there is only one other uncapped player in Scarlets flanker James Davies, younger brother of British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan who will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Both Northampton Saints wing North and Cardiff Blues’ Hallam Amos are struggling with injuries despite being included, meaning that Adams is competing with Liam Williams, Steff Evans and Alex Cutherbert for a place on the wing.
“It is an exciting opportunity for the two new caps,” said Gatland, who will be taking charge of his penultimate Six Nations campaign before leaving his role with Wales after next year’s Rugby World Cup. “James’ form over the last couple of years has been impressive, he’s in a competitive area but we look forward to seeing what he can do. For Josh it’s a great opportunity, he’s been on great form and the back-three is somewhere we are looking to create depth in.
“We have selected a larger squad and it is an opportunity for us to work with a wider group and continue building for the next 18 months. It's important to have a group of players who are used to the environment, know what is expected and are familiar with things and that will really benefit us going forward.”
Along with the absent centre Davies, Gatland has left out his club teammate Jake Ball due to the dislocated shoulder he suffered against New Zealand during last November’s autumn internationals, meaning that captain Alun Wyn Jones is joined by fellow locks Bradley Davies, Cory Hill, Seb Davies and Adam Beard. However, it will be the back-row that will be of most concern for Gatland, with Lions captain Sam Warburton ruled out until the summer following knee surgery along with Ospreys flanker Dan Lydiate.
Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty, who will join the Dragons at the end of the season, has missed the bulk of the season with a back injury but is included alongside Bath No 8 Faletau, who is expected to miss at least the first two rounds of the championship with a knee injury.
“We have included a couple of players who are carrying injuries,” Gatland added. “With Taulupe we are hoping he will be available towards the end of the campaign and Rhys [Priestland] picked up a knock at the weekend so we will see where he is at. It's useful to have these experienced guys around camp and to have them included and to work with them.
“Last autumn was about exposing and developing players as part of the two-year countdown to the Rugby World Cup, the next couple of months are about testing those players in tournament rugby – we know how important the Six Nations is.”
One exciting prospect in the Wales side is the utility back Rhys Patchell, who has excelled for Scarlets over the last two months and could be a contender for full-back, should Gatland stick with Dan Biggar at fly-half. Rhys Webb remains in contention despite his planned move to Toulon at the end of the season – which will see him ineligible for future selection due to the new Senior Player Selection Policy – while Hadleigh Parkes remains in the squad after making his debut against South Africa last December on the day that he qualified to play for Wales on residency grounds.
But there is no room for Harlequins’ 94-cap veteran Jamie Roberts, who was called up to cover injuries during the autumn internationals, or Bath lock Luke Charteris.
Wales Six Nations squad
Backs: Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb, Gareth Anscombe, Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell, Rhys Priestland, Hadleigh Parkes, Owen Watkin, Owen Williams, Scott Williams, Josh Adams,Hallam Amos, Alex Cuthbert, Steff Evans, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Liam Williams.
Forwards: Rob Evans, Wyn Jones, Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Elliot Dee, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Samson Lee, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Seb Davies, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, James Davies, Taulupe Faletau, Ellis Jenkins, Ross Moriarty, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric.
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