Warren Gatland has announced his first Guinness Six Nations squad in his second spell as Wales head coach and he has not shied away from some big decisions.
The standout call was always going to be the identity of his captain and Ken Owens won the race ahead of former skippers Dan Biggar, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones.
The inclusion of four uncapped players at lock and centre also hinted at where Gatland sees room for improvement.
Elsewhere, there are returns for Owen Williams, Rhys Webb and Aaron Wainwright, while the New Zealander has shuffled his pack at fly-half.
Owens entrusted with captaincy
There was a big question mark surrounding the captaincy of Wales leading up to the announcement at midday on Tuesday.
Would Gatland plump for the returning Dan Biggar who led the team in last year’s Championship or would the Kiwi opt for 2022 Autumn Nations Series skipper Justin Tipuric?
Alun Wyn Jones had a fair chance too, with the veteran lock in possession of the armband the last time Gatland was in charge of Wales.
Even 23-year-old Jac Morgan was touted by some, but in the end it was Scarlets hooker Owens entrusted with the leadership role.
It was not too long ago that the 36-year-old was considering retirement after battling with a back injury, but a successful recovery has him playing back to his best.
Owens’ forceful and forthright personality was seen as decisive in his appointment and Gatland will hope he continues to provide a powerful vocal presence on and off the field.
Big returns, uncapped hopefuls and surprise absentees
Gatland had previously suggested that the average age of previous Welsh squads needed addressing and the four uncapped hopefuls are certainly an injection of youth.
Exciting young prospects Christ Tshiunza, Rio Dyer and Joe Hawkins are retained, while Teddy Williams, 22, Rhys Davies, 24, Mason Grady, 20, and Keiran Williams, 25, will be desperate to earn their first cap.
The two uncapped locks, Teddy Williams and Davies, will be under the tutelage of Alun Wyn Jones and vying for his spot next to Adam Beard with Will Rowlands out due to a shoulder injury.
But competition will also come in the form of Exeter Chief’s Dafydd Jenkins, the youngest member of Gatland’s squad and one who made his international bow against Georgia in November.
Gatland is also weighing up his options in midfield, though there is no doubt over Nick Tompkins and George North’s starting credentials.
Pushing for spots on the replacements bench are Cardiff’s Grady and Ospreys duo Keiran Williams and Joe Hawkins, with Williams the preferred inside centre at club level.
At scrum-half, Dane Blacker is left out in favour of Kieran Hardy and 34-year-old Rhys Webb who could be in line for his first cap since November 2020.
Likewise, there is no room for Morgan Morris, but Aaron Wainwright, 25, is brought back into the fold to provide back up to Taulupe Faletau after not being included for Wales’ 2022 Autumn Nations Series.
Perhaps the unluckiest absentee is loosehead Nicky Smith who has been in sparkling form for Ospreys this term.
Keys to No.10
None of the three fly-halves selected by Gatland featured in Wales’ inconsistent autumn, though captaincy candidate Biggar did pick up a knee injury in mid-October.
This time it is Gareth Anscombe who faces a spell on the sidelines, but Rhys Patchell and Owen Williams have been picked on merit ahead of Rhys Priestland and Sam Costelow.
Patchell has made just two appearances for his country since featuring heavily in Wales’ run to the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final and Williams earned his last cap back in 2017.
Williams’ club side Ospreys have won all four of their games with him starting at No.10 since his move last month and his form has earned him a shot at a first Guinness Six Nations appearance.