Gatland to ignore internal politics
7:56pm Tuesday 14th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Warren Gatland says that Wales will put the politics "to one side" in pursuit of an unprecedented RBS 6 Nations title hat-trick this season.
Welsh rugby is currently in the grip of a volatile political climate due to an ongoing dispute between the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales' four professional regions.
No participation agreement has yet been ratified between the WRU and Regional Rugby Union Wales, while there remains considerable contractual uncertainty surrounding several top players and where they will be playing next term.
"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," head coach Gatland said.
"We have got an opportunity to create history, and that is something we will focus on and something that will give us extra motivation.
"We have got the three games at home and two tough away games (against Ireland and England), but when we won the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 we had these fixtures, so we know it can be done.
"The Six Nations is always a tough competition. You need a little bit of luck and momentum, and that's why we need to start well against Italy first up."
Gatland has named a 32-man squad, captained by Sam Warburton, for the title defence. No uncapped players have been selected.
Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies, who is not expected back in action until early March while he continues his recovery from a chest muscle injury, is in the squad, but there is no place for Cardiff Blues scrum-half Lloyd Williams.
Gatland will also need to run the rule over Warburton, who has been sidelined in recent weeks due to injury, while his fellow Blues forward Gethin Jenkins went off injured during last Saturday's Heineken Cup defeat against Toulon and Ryan Jones currently has a hamstring problem.
"We don't think Jonathan is too far away," Gatland added.
"Ryan Jones is carrying a bit of a knock, Sam Warburton hasn't played a lot. Hopefully, they are not going to be too far away."
Former Blues centre Jamie Roberts, now with Paris-based Racing Metro, also features after he missed this season's autumn internationals because of injury.
Williams, meanwhile, loses out behind Gatland's preferred scrum-half trio of Mike Phillips, Rhodri Williams and fit-again Ospreys number nine Rhys Webb.
The squad contains 28 players who have been part of previous Six Nations-winning groups, with Gatland opting for a split of 13 backs and 19 forwards. Wales' opening game is at home against Italy on February 1.
"We've picked a pretty experienced squad and kept it fairly tight at this stage," Gatland said.
"There is a possibility we may add one or two players in. There are a few younger guys that need a bit of rugby, so we were keen for them to stay with the regions. Perhaps after the first couple of rounds when they have some more rugby under their belts we may add them into the squad.
"One of the things we have tried to create is an environment where the players look forward to coming into the national team.
"We are blessed with some of the best facilities and the best stadium in the world, so there is no lack of motivation for the players when they come into the squad."
Wales have lost just two of their last 14 Six Nations fixtures, but Gatland is well aware of the history surrounding tournaments that immediately follow a British and Irish Lions tour.
He was at the helm when the Lions claimed a memorable Test series triumph against Australia last year, their first over any opponent since 1997.
"The big challenge for us is if you look back over the last four or five Lions tours, or maybe even further back, the team that has won the Six Nations or Grand Slam after a Lions tour has been France," he added.
"It is going to be tough for us. We are aware of that history as well, and so getting off to a good start against Italy is paramount."
Gatland's squad will assemble next Monday.
Wales squad for the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship.
Backs: L Williams (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), G North (Northampton), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Scarlets), J Roberts (Racing Metro), J Davies (Scarlets), J Hook (Perpignan), R Priestland (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), R Williams (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys).
Forwards: P James (Bath), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Bevington (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), R Hibbard (Ospreys), K Owens (Scarlets), E Phillips (Scarlets), A-W Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Perpignan), I Evans (Ospreys), A Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), A Shingler (Scarlets), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).