Ken Owens was named Wales captain for the Six Nations on Tuesday as returning coach Warren Gatland announced his 37-man squad for the championship.
The Scarlets hooker has seen off competition from several former skippers in Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar, who are all still in the squad.
“Ken is incredibly experienced and a passionate Welshman. It means a lot to him to play for Wales,” said Gatland, returning for a second stint as Wales coach. “He is also very popular with the players.
“He came back from injury and was absolutely outstanding during the autumn campaign.
“Probably, if you are picking a team at the moment, he is the number one in that position.”
The New Zealander has selected four uncapped players — centres Keiran Williams (Ospreys) and Mason Grady (Cardiff), as well as Ospreys lock Rhys Davies and Cardiff second-row forward Teddy Williams ahead of a Six Nations opener at home to Ireland on February 4.
Gareth Anscombe and Ross Moriarty are among several players not selected due to injury but Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit, currently sidelined by an ankle problem, has been included.
“It’s probably a bigger squad than I would normally name, but we want to have a good Six Nations and also look forward to the World Cup” (in France later this year), said Gatland.
The former British and Irish Lions boss replaced compatriot Wayne Pivac as coach last month following a disappointing run of results in November, including a shock home defeat by Georgia.
Wales won just 13 of 34 Tests under Pivac, though he guided them to the 2021 Six Nations title. He succeeded Gatland following the 2019 World Cup.
Wales lost four of their five matches in the 2022 Six Nations, including a home defeat by Italy.
Gatland presided over one of Wales’ most successful eras from 2008 to 2019, winning four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, as well as reaching two World Cup semi-finals.
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