CARDIFF, Wales (AP) Sam Warburton was no longer guaranteed a start for Wales and agreed to give up the captaincy to focus on his form, interim coach Rob Howley said on Tuesday.
Lock Alun Wyn Jones, second on the list of all-time Wales caps, took over as skipper of a 36-man squad which included Warburton and seven newcomers for the Six Nations next month.
Warburton has led Wales a record 49 times since 2011, including at the last two Rugby World Cups. His sides won the Six Nations in 2012 and 2013, and he led the British and Irish Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013.
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But the flanker has been dogged by injuries, and Howley began talking to Warburton in November about moving from No. 7 to No. 6. Howley and Warburton finalized the decision about dropping the captaincy on Monday, and Howley said coach Warren Gatland backed it.
Nobody was guaranteed their position except Jones, Howley said at a news conference. He stressed it was the best decision for Warburton and Wales.
”The talent we have in the back row, we feel it’s best for Sam to concentrate on being the best he can be and getting his mojo back,” Howley said. ”Sam agreed with it. He’s very humble and very honest. He’s been very successful as captain of Wales and his experience will be crucial.
”The last six years, Sam has concentrated on being Wales captain, and maybe it’s about being selfish and looking after Sam Warburton. It’s time now that he just looks after himself. He smiled when we had the chat, and hopefully we’ll see the best of him.”
With Warburton set to fight for a start from a back-row corps that excites Howley, Jones will lead Wales out in its Six Nations opener on Feb. 5 against Italy in Rome.
”It’s an honour to select Alun Wyn as captain,” Howley said. ”His vast experience, as a player and a leader, will help drive this squad forward and I believe he will flourish in the role.”
The seven uncapped players were Ospreys lock Rory Thornton, Wasps flanker Thomas Young, Ospreys flanker Olly Cracknell, Scarlets scrumhalf Aled Davies, Leicester flyhalf Owen Williams, Newport winger Ashton Hewitt, and Scarlets winger-fullback Steffan Evans.
There were doubts about the fitness of No. 8 Taulupe Faletau and scrumhalves Rhys Webb and Gareth Davies, but all were selected.
Wales: Forwards: Scott Andrews, Nicky Smith, Rob Evans, Rhodri Jones, Tomas Francis, Samson Lee, Kristian Dacey, Ken Owens, Scott Baldwin, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Rory Thornton, Luke Charteris, Cory Hill, James King, Justin Tipuric, Olly Cracknell, Ross Moriarty, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, Thomas Young. Backs: Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb, Aled Davies, Dan Biggar, Sam Davies, Owen Williams, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Ashton Hewitt, Alex Cuthbert, Steffan Evans, George North, Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.