Cardiff Blues flanker Martyn Williams has been left out of Wales’ RBS 6 Nations squad in a surprise omission by head coach Warren Gatland.
The 35-year-old, who has won 98 caps and featured on the last three British and Irish Lions tours, misses the tournament that Wales kick off against England in 12 days’ time.
Gatland has opted for youth as his openside options in the form of Williams’ Blues colleague Sam Warburton and Scarlets’ highly-rated Josh Turnbull.
It could signal the end of Williams’ illustrious Test career, which began in 1996 and has seen him move to within two appearances of joining Gareth Thomas as only the second Welsh cap centurion.
Gatland’s 28-man party includes five uncapped players in Turnbull, Scarlets back Rhys Priestland, front-row forwards Ryan Bevington and Scott Andrews, as well as back-row prospect Toby Faletau.
Williams is not the only player to miss out, with the likes of Dan Biggar, Tom James, Aled Brew, Tom Prydie, Huw Bennett and Ian Gough also deemed surplus to requirements.
Gatland also has a lengthy injury list to contend with, as absentees include props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, centre Tom Shanklin and wing George North, while scrum-half Richie Rees is banned until late March.
Experienced Sale Sharks number nine Dwayne Peel returns to the squad after missing out during the autumn series, joining fellow scrum-halves Mike Phillips and Tavis Knoyle, with other notable inclusions being fit-again Lions backs Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny.
And wing Shane Williams, Wales’ record try-scorer, is also back just over two months after dislocating his shoulder during the defeat against world champions South Africa.
Williams launched his comeback with an impressive substitute’s appearance for the Ospreys in their Heineken Cup victory over Toulon yesterday.
Former Wales captain and back-row regular Ryan Jones, meanwhile, has been bracketed among the locks alongside Alun-Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies.
Jones has featured in the second-row for the Ospreys with considerable success in recent weeks.
Scarlets hooker Matthew Rees has retained the captaincy of a squad that Gatland hopes can really make its presence felt in this season’s Six Nations.
Gatland said: “We have deliberately kept the squad as small as possible and have reverted back largely to the philosophy we had during the Grand Slam year in 2008.
“We want to keep intensity levels up in training and have ensured that we are not carrying players with injury.
“Everyone here is fighting fit and able to take a full part and challenge each other for selection.
“It’s a boost to have one or two players back from injury in the back line with Shane Williams and Lee Byrne, both doubts at one stage, and Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts returning after being unavailable to us in the autumn. There is an exciting look about the backs.
“Up front, it’s well-documented that we have lost a couple of players in the front row, but that gives opportunities to others to put their hands up, and we are pleased with the options we have got in the pack.
“The forwards have been going pretty well, and we have decided to give a couple of youngsters a chance in this tournament, but that doesn’t mean there is no way back for those who have missed out.
“We are conscious that we need now to begin to realise our potential, and that means winning some games.
“It all starts against England at the Millennium Stadium in a fortnight, and they don’t come much bigger than that.
“We have a pretty good record against them in recent years and enjoy playing against them, especially at the Millennium Stadium, and it is a game that could really set the tone for the season ahead for both sides.
“In a World Cup year, that is all that needs to be said.”
Wales go into the Six Nations on the back of seven Tests without a win, having lost six and drawn one. Their last victory came against Italy in the final game of last season’s tournament.
Wales squad for the RBS 6 Nations Championship:
Backs: L Byrne (Ospreys), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), M Stoddart (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), R Priestland (Scarlets), S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys), D Peel (Sale Sharks), T Knoyle (Scarlets).
Forwards: P James (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), C Mitchell (Ospreys), R Bevington (Ospreys), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), J Turnbull (Scarlets), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Wasps).