Gatland says Wales not closing the door on veteran trio
Wales boss Warren Gatland says the door is not closed on star names Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric after leaving them out of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Scotland.
A third British and Irish Lion – number eight Taulupe Faletau – has also failed to make the starting line-up and will be a replacement at Murrayfield, but Jones and Tipuric are not in Gatland’s matchday 23.
The trio boast 342 Wales caps and 18 Lions Test appearances between them, with their omissions representing huge selection calls.
Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins replaces Jones, with his Chiefs colleague Christ Tshiunza packing down at blindside flanker in a reshaped back row that sees Leicester’s Tommy Reffell taking the number seven shirt off Tipuric and Jac Morgan switching to number eight instead of Faletau.
Changing of the guard
Asked if it represented a changing of the guard, Gatland said: “I don’t think so. I just think we need to think about what is important in this tournament.
“We lost that first game (34-10 against Ireland), so we can’t win the Grand Slam or the Triple Crown.
“We still want to do well in this tournament and Saturday’s game is important for us, but we need to think long-term as well in the next seven or eight months.
“We have got a huge disparity between those experienced players with the number of caps they’ve got, and a lot of incredibly talented youngsters with a limited number of caps. We just need to find that balance.
“We had spoken to Alun Wyn Jones before the campaign about not playing all the games as we need to see some of the youngsters in that position where we have got some talent, but they are young and inexperienced.
“The decision-making at number eight is who is our cover if Faletau gets injured. That is the thinking behind that.
“In fairness, they (Jones and Tipuric) have been brilliant. We’ve had those conversations and explained it to the squad in terms of our rationale and thinking. They understand it.
“We know what they can do, but some of these youngsters we don’t know what their potential is or how they are going to handle international rugby.”
Lock Jones was cleared to add to his world record 168 Test match appearances in Wales and Lions colours despite going off during the second half against Ireland.
But Gatland has handed 20-year-old Jenkins a first international start alongside second-row partner Adam Beard, with 21-year-old Tshiunza also making a full Test bow.
Two other changes see Scarlets prop Wyn Jones recalled instead of Gareth Thomas while tighthead Dillon Lewis replaces Tomas Francis, with Gatland retaining the back division that started against Ireland.
Jones, who will be 38 later this year, misses out to a player 17 years his junior but one who has already captained Exeter in the Gallagher Premiership.
Tshiunza, meanwhile, offers a ball-carrying presence and a considerable lineout option, with that critical set-piece department having proved a major problem area during the Ireland defeat.
Faletau apart, changes among the replacements include opportunities for uncapped Ospreys lock Rhys Davies, Dragons prop Leon Brown and Scarlets back Rhys Patchell.
Wales have won on six of their last seven trips to Edinburgh, but they will encounter a Scotland side fresh from defeating England at Twickenham last time out.
Gatland added: “I said it during the autumn, I think it is the strongest Scottish side I have seen for a number of years in terms of the depth they have got.
“They kept the All Blacks scoreless for 50 minutes in a game where they could have won.
“The goal for us this week is to start well and cut out the silly penalties we gave away early in the (Ireland) game that put us under pressure.”
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