Warren Gatland is back and leading Wales into another Guinness Six Nations.
The Kiwi has enjoyed incredible success with the side in the past, but it will be a completely new challenge this time around with fresh faces at his disposal and different challengers to clash with.
Gatland replaced Wayne Pivac after a challenging 2022 for his compatriot, but now the pressure will be on the players ahead of the return of Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
They will host Ireland at Principality Stadium in their opening match of the Championship, and all eyes will be on Gatland’s game plan in his first Guinness Six Nations game back as Wales head coach.
Fans could be forgiven for expecting a return to Warren-ball, and with hard-line loving centres like Keiran Williams and Joe Hawkins in the squad, Gatland has the personnel to go there.
But the Kiwi developed his game during his last stint at Principality Stadium, and Wales have come a long way too.
Gatland was criticised for his old-school approach during his recent time with the Chiefs, so expect a bit more attacking impetus this spring.
Coach: Warren Gatland
Gatland’s 12-year stint in charge of Wales coincided with one of the most successful periods in the country’s history and saw him rewarded with three tours as head coach of the British & Irish Lions.
Having taken charge of Galwegians RFC, Connacht, Ireland, Wasps, and Waikato, the 59-year-old was appointed Wales head coach in 2007.
He won three Grand Slams and four Six Nations Championships in total during that initial spell in charge.
Things may not have worked out at Chiefs, but Wales under Gatland are a different animal.
Captain: Ken Owens
Scarlets hooker Ken Owens will captain Wales during Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
The 36-year-old is one of the most experienced operators in the northern hemisphere and has proven his worth to Gatland time and time again.
🏴 Capten Cymru 🎙
Hear what it means to Ken Owens to be Welsh captain and how he found out! 👇#WelshRugby | @scarlets_rugby pic.twitter.com/i7ZRtDcWxM
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 17, 2023
He has played plenty of rugby this season, featuring in 11 of his club side’s games so far and starting in all four of Wales’ Autumn Nations Series Games.
He now has 86 caps to his name and will be a key cog in Wales’ set-piece if they want to challenge at the top of the Guinness Six Nations table over the next two months.
Star man: Justin Tipuric
Justin Tipuric is having an incredible season and could offer Wales that little bit of quality they will need to challenge the best sides in the Championship.
Fans, journalists and coaches alike praised the 33-year-old’s performance in Ospreys’ win against Montpellier.
Tipuric showed his outrageous skillset to score a brilliant individual try in the bonus-point victory over the French champions.
He has always been a joy to watch, but it feels like Tipuric could hit another level over the next eight weeks.
Breakthrough candidate: Joe Hawkins
Ospreys centre Joe Hawkins has the power, pace and skill to carve out a long and successful career in the game.
Hawkins first featured in the Wales U20 squad at the age of just 17 and made his regional debut for the Ospreys as an 18-year-old, so he has been on people’s radars for a while now.
He was solid on his international debut, starting brightly and then understandably fading as the game progressed.
At only 20 years old, he has plenty of time to develop, but he already has the skillset to make a big splash during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
Unsung hero: Josh Adams
Despite everything he has achieved in the game, Josh Adams never seems to get the credit he deserves.
He was a key man during Gatland’s first spell, scoring 11 tries, and he never let his standards slip under Pivac, adding another nine between 2020 and the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
He is only 27 years old and is still Wales’ best winger.
If he can find his best form over the next eight weeks, Wales could be in with a chance of doing very well.
2022 performance: Fifth
The 2022 Guinness Six Nations was a Championship to forget for Wales.
Wales finished fifth in the Championship overall.
They lost 29-7 away against Ireland on the opening weekend, before recording their only win of the Championship, a 20-17 win against Scotland.
⏳ Wythnos i fynd
🏴 Cymru vs. Iwerddon#WelshRugby pic.twitter.com/qYBlGnm2kZ
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 28, 2023
Pivac’s side could not follow it up though and lost to England 23-19 before going down 13-9 at home against France in a closely-fought encounter.
In their final game, they lost to Italy, the Azzurri’s first win in the Guinness Six Nations in seven years.
15 Liam Williams, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Gareth Thomas, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Jac Morgan, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Taulupe Faletau
Home ground: Principality Stadium
Principality Stadium is one of the iconic grounds in the northern hemisphere.
It is the national stadium of Wales, home to one of the greatest national anthem renditions in modern sport, and all inside the ground 75,000 will be bouncing for Gatland’s return.
Wales only play two games at home this year, but they are against Ireland and England, so the fans at Principality Stadium will need to make home advantage count.
Strength: Under the high ball
Wales have some of the best operators under a highball in the world at their disposal.
Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams are all experts in those scenarios, and with the likes of Adams, Hawkins and George North around them they have the speed and skill to take advantage of those scenarios.
It will help Wales in attack and defence and give them a clear edge over other teams in the Championship.
We have all been watching Gatland and Wales’ key core of players for over a decade.
There is a risk that teams will know what to expect and prepare for the coming storm, particularly with so few fresh faces being introduced in recent years.
Wales will want to hit the ground running after a tough time under Pivac, but they cannot be afraid to mix things up a little bit if they have to.
If Wales were a pop group, they would be… Take That
Wales forgot where they came from in 2022 and it looked like their greatest days were behind them.
They may have enjoyed some success without their main man Gatland, much like Gary Barlow and the boys did in the mid-2000s, but now the Kiwi is back for good.
Wales are ready to shine following Gatland’s Robbie Williams-esque return, and it could be magic in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations if he can relight Wales’ fire.