Rob Howley and his coaching team have named a 35-man squad to contest the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Tournament which includes five uncapped players and the return from injury of props Adam Jones and Craig Mitchell.
Captain Sam Waburton will lead the side as they prepare to defend their 2012 RBS 6 Nations title and will be joined in the squad by uncapped Blues back-row colleagues Josh Navidi and Andries Pretorius.
Second row duo James King (Ospreys) and Andrew Coombs (Dragons) have also been called into the squad for the first time alongside Ospreys wing Eli Walker.
Wales’ interim head coach has named an experienced contingent in the front row which is bolstered by the return of Jones (Ospreys) and Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), who feature alongside Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Paul James (Bath), Scott Andrews (Blues) and Ryan Bevington (Ospreys). Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets) and Richard Hibbard (Ospreys) are all named at hooker.
Ian Evans (Ospreys), Lou Reed (Blues) and Josh Turnbull (Scarlets) who all featured in the Autumn squad remain in the 35-man group and are joined by King and Coombs. Former Wales Under 20 second row, King, 22, has impressed for the Ospreys this term domestically and in Europe and will vie for a second row berth with Dragons forward Coombs. The 28-year-old, who can also play in the back row, has caught the eye of the Welsh management this season. Injuries to Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Bradley Davies (Blues) and Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) have ruled them out of initial selection.
In the back row, captain Waburton is named alongside experienced Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) and Aaron Shingler (Scarlets). Former Wales Under 20 captain Navidi is rewarded for his performances this season with his first call-up to the National squad as is 27 year-old Blues captain Pretorius. Born in Nelspruit, South Africa, Pretorius will add fire-power to the back row options and qualifies on residency.
In the backline Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues) and Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets) will contest the number nine jersey. They will be joined at half-back by Dan Biggar (Ospreys) and James Hook (Perpignan), with Rhys Priestland (Scarlets) unavailable for selection due to injury.
The experience in the backline continues with Blues trio Alex Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny all named alongside Jonathan Davies, George North Scott Williams and Liam Williams (all Scarlets). ASM Clermont Auvergne full-back Lee Byrne returns to the squad after missing out during the Autumn campaign. Eli Walker continues the trend of players progressing through the WRU elite pathway structure having starred for Wales Under 20 last year and he is rewarded for his recent form with a first call-up.
The 2012 Grand Slam Champions begin the defence of their title against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 2 February, before facing France in Paris the following weekend.
“We have put together a very experienced squad and complimented that by rewarding the in-form players with a call-up,” said Howley.
“The players in the squad have been playing really well and we have been pleased with their individual performances.
“We have a group of players who know how to win big matches and have experienced success. We are adding to that, players who have stood out and performed well for the regions this season.”
FORWARDS: Scott Andrews (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys) Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys) Lou Reed (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Scarlets), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Andries Pretorius (Blues)
BACKS: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets) Alex Cuthbert (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont).