Wales head coach Warren Gatland has announced his first squad since taking over from Wayne Pivac at the helm of the Test outfit.
His Six Nations squad includes four uncapped players, namely Ospreys centre Keiran Williams, Cardiff centre Mason Grady, Ospreys lock Rhys Davies and Cardiff second-row forward Teddy Williams.
Gatland’s other change is naming Ken Owens as the captain for the Championship, with the hooker preferred over Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones.
Planet Rugby picks out our winners and losers from the squad announcement.
Loser – Nicky Smith
Gatland has selected a mix of form and experience on his return, but one glaring omission is Ospreys loosehead, Smith.
The Ospreys’ pack has dominated in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Champions Cup this season, largely thanks to the efforts of Smith.
The Swansea-based side have won the most penalties (32) in the URC, the most of any side, while they boast an impressive 92% scrum success rate.
Smith has been at the forefront of their success in the set-piece, putting standout shifts against Leinster and Montpellier in the Champions Cup.
Winners – Wyn Jones and Rhys Carre
Staying with the front-rowers, Jones and Carre both crack the nod at loosehead ahead of Smith.
Carre has been rewarded for his outstanding form this season for Cardiff, averaging around eight tackles and six carries per match. He returns to the squad after falling out of favour with Pivac but is recalled by the coach who handed him his first cap before the World Cup in 2019.
Meanwhile, Jones has been picked on pedigree, having just returned from injury last week against the Cheetahs. While his credentials have weight, having earned 45 Test caps and represented the British and Irish Lions, he will need to hit the ground running in the final few matches before the Six Nations to claim a spot in the matchday 23.
Loser – Dane Blacker
The new Wales boss has overlooked the in-form Scarlets scrum-half after he earned a Test call-up last November.
Blacker has been snubbed as Gatland opts for the more experienced options in Tomos Williams, Rhys Webb and Kieran Hardy.
The 25-year-old was voted the Scarlets’ player of the month for December after scoring a crucial try in the New Year’s Day clash against Dragons, in what was his 50th appearance for the side.
Winner – Rhys Webb
The veteran Ospreys scrum-half returns to work alongside the coach with whom he enjoyed plenty of success at Wales and Lions.
Webb last played for Wales in 2020, and his omissions in Pivac’s latter squads was puzzling, considering his form with Ospreys.
He was unavailable to Gatland during the latter stages of his tenure as he signed with Toulon, but with the head coach looking to swiftly turn around Wales’ fortunes, turning to the sniping half-back is an intelligent move.
Loser – Ellis Jenkins
A victim of the depth Wales has in the back-row, specifically in the number seven jumper.
Jenkins looks to be recapturing his top form after a horrific injury against South Africa back in 2018 brought his Test career to a screaming halt.
He fought his back into the squad last year but again fell out of favour. He can’t be too far down the pecking order, but one can’t argue too much with Tommy Reffell and Tipuric preferred.
Winner – Mason Grady and Keiran Williams
Gatland hasn’t just backed experience, and the uncapped midfield duo of Grady and Williams is a perfect example of exactly that.
The pair have been in excellent form for their clubs and have thoroughly deserved their call-ups.
Williams, who was named Ospreys player of the month for December, produced a player-of-the-match performance against Leinster in the URC and scored tries in the away win over Montpellier and the victory over Montpellier in France.
Meanwhile, Grady is an exciting prospect for Gatland, who has regularly selected big abrasive backs throughout his coaching career. The 20-year-old stands 1.98 metres tall and has a remarkable turn of pace for his size.
Winner – Aaron Wainwright
Another player who fell out of favour with Pivac returns to the Test set-up. Wainwright was a regular starter for Wales in 2019, but his involvement with the squad has fluctuated since.
An enthusiastic back-rower, Wainwright can easily fill a gap on the side or the back of the scrum. His versatility will undoubtedly play a role in his recall, but Gatland has spoken highly of the 25-year-old in recent years.
He does face a tough challenge to break into the starting XV, but he could be a handy replacement off the bench.
Wales face Ireland in their opening Six Nations match on February 4.
READ MORE: Ken Owens named captain by Warren Gatland as four uncapped players included in Wales squad
The article Wales: Winners and losers from Warren Gatland’s Six Nations squad appeared first on Planetrugby.com.