The verdict on Wales' new-look squad as new faces and raft of omissions explained

Ellis Bevan of Cardiff
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)

For Warren Gatland, perhaps the biggest result for his second squad announcement of the year was that it wasn't derailed like the first.

There was no last-minute bombshells to blow his plans out of the water, which is just as well as this wasn't ever going to be the easiest squad to pick for a number of factors.

The need to blood youth, mixed with the constant pressure on results after a wooden spoon campaign is one thing. Then, throw in a clash with the Springboks outside of the Test window and you have other headaches to sooth.

Finally, 57 weeks since Gatland named his preliminary World Cup training squad last May, the final step of this lengthy season is upon us.

Rightly, for some, this summer will serve as some much-needed time off, rather than another excuse to hit rucks in anger. You can read the full squad news here.

The missing players

Josh Adams, after a campaign that has seen him drain blood from his knees on a weekly basis to turn out for club and country, will enjoy his first rugby-free summer in five years.

He'll be joined by Ryan Elias and Will Rowlands in not touring. All those calls make sense from a player welfare point of view.

Someone like Alex Mann, who broke onto the Test scene this year with two tries in his first two matches for Wales, fits the bill of building for the future, but he won't travel down under. Having missed the last few weeks of his breakthrough campaign for Cardiff, it again seems a sensible call to give him a pre-season before he tries to bulk up a bit and back it all up in the second season.

Tomos Williams, having suffered a serious injury that required surgery in the Six Nations defeat to Italy, was expected to be back in June. Some thought that, as Wales' first-choice nine now, he'd warrant taking. But clearly Gatland thinks it's not worth the risk.

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Naturally, the likes of Jac Morgan, Dewi Lake and Taine Plumtree all returning from injury, it's somewhat easier to leave players out elsewhere.

Of course, if you're looking at other names not listed in this 36-man squad - to be cut down by two after the Springboks clash at Twickenham - then Morgan Morris is perhaps the obvious one.

Truthfully, it felt like the judgement had already been passed on the Ospreys No. 8 by the Wales management, but on the back of countless player of the match performances, the hope always remained that maybe he'd force his way in.

That wasn't to be, though, with Gatland citing improvements needed in his defensive work. Some of the other notable omissions did at least have some credit in the bank.

Ioan Lloyd endured a tricky Six Nations as Wales struggled, but with Wales' fly-half options limited, he might still have expected to tour. However, Gatland alluded to the number of small fly-halves in Wales - something you'd categorise Lloyd as - with the Wales coach looking for more physical stature in the position.

James Botham, too, might have thought he'd done enough to sneak into Wales' back-row pool, and the omission of form prop Nicky Smith has baffled many.

The new faces

Of course, those omissions do provide opportunities. Without Gloucester-bound scrum-half Williams touring, there's a chance for Ellis Bevan - the man who has stepped into his boots at Cardiff - to get his chance with Wales.

Few had mentioned him as a contender, but the 24-year-old could be become just the fifth scrum-half to be capped by Wales in the last decade and the first since 2020. The addition of a left-footed kicking option will add something different to Wales' scrum-half stocks.

Ospreys winger Keelan Giles certainly had been mentioned in potential squads, but there was always the fear he'd be viewed in the same way as his Ospreys team-mate, Morris.

However, after a campaign that saw him replicate the form of his breakout campaign back in 2017, the electric wing will finally get his chance of a cap - eight years after being left on the bench against Japan.

He'll be vying for a place with Josh Hathaway, with the Gloucester youngster included after a breakthrough campaign at Kingsholm.

Being English-qualified, there's a sense that the WRU don't want to repeat the mistakes of Immanuel Feyi-Waboso. He's not the finished product by any means, but he's got some eye-catching qualities.

Jacob Beetham was perhaps the most well-trailed of the new caps. The Cardiff full-back trained with Wales in the Six Nations, with Scotland having been sniffing around.

Cardiff see him purely as a full-back, but Gatland is likely to use this summer to have a look at him as a fly-half and centre.

Old faces return

Cory Hill and Liam Williams have both been plying their trade in Japan this season, with both understood to be looking at returns to Wales.

As such, their inclusion in the squad had been heavily trailed. Neither second-row or back-three is stacked with established talent at the minute, so it's little surprise to see either.

Perhaps, surprisingly, Gatland sees both as capable of reaching the World Cup in Australia in three years time. Hill's selection still remains contentious for an off-the-field incident a few years ago (you can read about that here), but the Wales coach is content in bringing him in from the cold - having also picked him in last year's World Cup training squad.

Of the other familiar faces to return, the likes of Sam Parry and Matthew Screech make the squad. But perhaps the biggest winner is Ben Thomas.

The Cardiff playmaker has been in fine form for the Blue and Blacks, being arguably their best performer of the campaign. With just one out-and-out fly-half in the squad in the form of Sam Costelow, there's a real chance for Thomas to push for a place in the matchday squad - perhaps even a start.

Nearly three years after his last cap, there's a sense he's ready for that opportunity now.

Who's the captain?

Last year, the news was that there was two co-captains going into the World Cup.

Now, with this latest squad, there's no 'c' in brackets next to any name. Wales' co-captains in France, Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake, are in the squad, as is the Six Nations skipper, Dafydd Jenkins.

However, with the Ospreys' season still ongoing and Jenkins plying his trade in England, there's no guarantee who will rock up to camp first.

As such, there's no real rush for Gatland to nail his colours to the mast.

However, he does admit that the next appointment is more than likely to be the long-term one.