Gatland hails 'rugby intellect' of new Wales captain Owens

Warren Gatland said Ken Owens' "outstanding rugby intellect" lay behind his decision to appoint the Scarlets hooker as Wales captain for the Six Nations.

Owens, who has won 86 caps for his country, is set to lead Wales for the first time in their tournament opener against Ireland in Cardiff on February 4.

Gatland, returning for a second spell as Wales coach after his fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac was sacked last month, had several other options as skipper including former Test captains Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar and Justin Tipuric.

The former British and Irish Lions boss also thought about installing a younger captain as part of a long-term plan.

But with a World Cup in France coming up later this year, he settled on the 36-year-old Owens.

"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 after naming his Six Nations squad on Tuesday.

"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."

Gatland added: "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."

Gatland has returned following a woeful 2022 for Wales that yielded just three wins and included losses at home to both Italy and Georgia.

Those defeats led to the exit of Pivac, who won just 13 of his 34 Tests as Wales coach, though he guided the side to the 2021 Six Nations title.

But Gatland, recalling Wales' 2008 Grand Slam in his first Six Nations in charge, said: "It wasn't believable 15 years ago, so anything is possible.

"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."