Wales boss Warren Gatland has hailed Ken Owens’ “outstanding rugby intellect” after naming him captain for the Guinness Six Nations Championship.
Scarlets hooker Owens, who has won 86 caps, will lead his country for the first time against Ireland in Cardiff on February 4.
And while Gatland admitted that he considered appointing a younger captain, 36-year-old Owens has won his vote ahead of alternatives such as Justin Tipuric, Dan Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones and potentially Jac Morgan.
“Looking at the squad, I think if we are picking a team, if you look at the way he (Owens) played in the autumn and how he came back from injury, he is probably number one in that position,” Gatland said.
“I did contemplate whether we picked a young captain and looked at that for the future.
“Talking to the other coaches, there are probably a few contenders post the World Cup, where there will be significant change to the squad. Ken has been picked to do that job, and he will do a great job.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Ken as a person and I’m sure he’ll be popular with the players.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve, has an outstanding rugby intellect and he relates well with people.”
There are a number of senior players among a 37-man Wales squad in the twilight years of their careers.
Asked if he had considered getting rid of some of the old guard, Gatland added: “Yeah, I did.
“The thought process is that it was something that needed to be done earlier. I think we are running out of time.
“Some of that experience needs to be in that squad to help with the youngsters who haven’t got a lot of caps to their name.”
Gatland has named four uncapped players in his squad – Ospreys centre Keiran Williams, who he said reminded him of “a younger Scott Gibbs”, Cardiff centre Mason Grady, Ospreys lock Rhys Davies and Cardiff second-row forward Teddy Williams.
Elsewhere, there are recalls for 34-year-old Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb – who last played Test rugby in 2020 – Ospreys fly-half Owen Williams, Scarlets back Rhys Patchell, Cardiff prop Rhys Carre and Dragons back-row forward Aaron Wainwright.
Selection absentees include Ross Moriarty, Nicky Smith and Ryan Elias, while injuries have sidelined the likes of fly-half Gareth Anscombe and lock Will Rowlands, but Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who is currently out of action due to an ankle problem, has been picked.
Gatland has returned for a second stint as Wales head coach. When his first spell began in 2008, Wales won the Six Nations title and a Grand Slam.
But they will begin this season’s tournament after a miserable 2022 under Gatland’s predecessor Wayne Pivac that produced just three wins and home defeats against the likes of Italy and Georgia.
“It (Six Nations title) wasn’t believable 15 years ago, so anything is possible,” he said.
“I am incredibly competitive and I will do whatever it takes to get this team to a position where they can compete with the best sides in the world.
“That will take some time, but I can guarantee we will work extremely hard over the next couple of weeks. I am positive we will compete extremely well in the Six Nations.”