Defending champions Wales have named an experienced squad on Tuesday for the 2014 Six Nations Championships in their quest to win an unprecedented third straight title.
No team has ever completed a hat-trick of Championships in the tournament’s various guises, not even the celebrated Wales team of the 1970s.
There were few surprises in the 32-man squad featuring no uncapped players unveiled by coach Warren Gatland.
The New Zealander, who coached the British and Irish Lions to a series victory in Australia last year, retained flanker Sam Warburton — also the Lions skipper — as Wales captain.
However, back-row forward Warburton has not played since suffering a shoulder injury during Wales’s 30-26 defeat by Australia at the Millennium Stadium in November and Cardiff Blues coach Phil Davies reckons the flanker is still a fortnight away from full fitness.
That doesn’t leave Warburton with much time to regain match sharpness ahead of Wales’ Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff on February 1.
Warburton’s fellow Blues forward Gethin Jenkins went off injured during last Saturday’s European Cup defeat by Toulon.
In the backs, centre Jonathan Davies was included even though he is set to miss the first three games of the Six Nations with the pectoral injury he sustained in Wales’ loss to South Africa in November.
Also selected was fellow Lions centre Jamie Roberts, who missed Wales’ entire end-of-year series but nevertheless is on course to return from an ankle injury for French club Racing Metro this weekend.
“We have got an opportunity to create history, and that is something we will focus on and something that will give us extra motivation,” said Gatland, who opted for a squad split between 13 backs and 19 forwards.
“We have got the three games at home and two tough away games, but when we won the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 we had these fixtures, so we know it can be done.
“We’ve picked a pretty experienced squad and kept it fairly tight at this stage,” added Gatland, who nevertheless said it was possible he could bring in reinforcements later in the tournament.
This year’s Six Nations takes place against a backdrop of near civil war within Welsh rugby due to a bitter dispute between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four professional regions.
The Six Nations will at least redirect attention to events on the field and Gatland said: “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.
“We can’t wait to kick off the tournament at home against Italy.”
Backs (13): Liam Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); George North (Northampton/ENG), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro/FRA), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets); James Hook (Perpignan/FRA), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys); Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro/FRA), Rhodri Williams (Scarlets)
Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro/FRA), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys); Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan/FRA), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys); Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Bath/ENG)
1 February: v Italy (h)
8 February: v Ireland (a)
21 February: v France (h)
9 March : v England (a)
15 March: v Scotland (h)