3:49pm Tuesday 14th January 2014
By Chris Kirwan
WARREN Gatland has pledged that the spat between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions won't derail his side's bid for a third Six Nations title on the bounce.
The head coach today named his 32-man squad for the tournament, which kicks off with a home encounter with Italy at the Millennium Stadium on February 1.
There were no surprises in the group that Gatland plumped for, which may have influenced the decision to make the announcement by email rather at a press conference as is usually the case.
With the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales at loggerheads, especially over central contracts for stellar players, the inclusion of Scarlets hooker Emyr Phillips or the Ospreys' Rhys Webb's as third choice scrum-half was hardly likely to be the most interesting topic of conversation.
So unlike Under-20s boss Byron Hayward, who 24 hours earlier had discussed his squad selection at the Vale of Glamorgan headquarters, Gatland outlined his preparations for the tournament in quotes sent out by the WRU.
Among them he said that the spat between the governing body and Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets – who provide 25 of the 32 – won't get in the way of their bid for a record third successive title.
"One of the things we have tried to create is an environment where the players look forward to coming into the national team, we are blessed with some of the best facilities and the best stadium in the world so there is no lack of motivation for the players when they come in to the squad," he wrote.
"We know there are some politics going on at the moment but we will put that to one side, come together as a group and focus on the rugby and what we can control."
There are no uncapped players in the squad and flanker Sam Warburton will be captain.
Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies, who is targeting a March return after suffering a pectoral injury against South Africa last autumn, is included along with Cardiff Blues loosehead Gethin Jenkins, who was forced off against Toulon last weekend.
Dragons duo Toby Faletau and Andrew Coombs are included in the group, which gathers on Monday.
"We've picked a pretty experienced squad and kept it fairly tight at this stage," wrote Gatland.
"There is a possibility we may add one or two players in. There are a few younger guys that need a bit of rugby, so we were keen for them to stay with the region.
"Perhaps after the first couple of rounds when they have some more rugby under their belts we may add them into the squad."
Forwards: Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton Capt (Cardiff Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets)
Backs: Rhodri Williams (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets).
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