LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Injury-hit Wales named five uncapped players in a 35-man squad on Tuesday for the defence of their Six Nations championship title which gets underway next month.
Unable to call on locks Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies through injury, interim coach Rob Howley called up James King and Andrew Coombs for the first time.
Back-row forwards Josh Navidi and Andries Pretorius were also selected, along with wing Eli Walker.
Born in Nelspruit, South Africa, Cardiff Blues captain Pretorius qualifies on residency.
Wales, who won a third Six Nations grand slam in eight years last season but have since lost seven successive games, welcome back influential prop Adam Jones and fellow front-rower Craig Mitchell from injury.
Jones missed all four of Wales’ November and December internationals because of a knee injury, as did fullback Lee Byrne who also returns.
With flyhalf Rhys Priestland missing the entire Six Nations through injury after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon, Dan Biggar and James Hook will vie for the start at halfback in their opening match at home to Ireland on Feb. 2.
Sam Warburton will captain a side that is also shorn of the services of flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle), prop Aaron Jarvis (knee) and hooker Huw Bennett (Achilles’).
“We have put together a very experienced squad and complimented that by rewarding the in-form players with a call-up,” Howley, standing in for Warren Gatland who has stepped aside to concentrate on his duties as British and Irish Lions head coach, said in a statement.
”The players in the squad have been playing really well and we have been pleased with their individual performances.
“We have a group of players who know how to win big matches and have experienced success. We are adding to that, players who have stood out and performed well for the regions this season.”
After winning the grand slam, Wales were beaten in three tests by Australia in June and have since lost at home to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia again.
They paid a heavy price for those defeats, dropping into the third tier of seeds for last month’s 2015 Rugby World Cup draw when they were paired in the toughest group, alongside Australia and England and two other nations yet to be decided.
Scarlets coach and former international Mark Jones has joined Howley’s coaching team as assistant coach (backs) for the tournament.
Forwards: Scott Andrews (Blues), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys) Paul James (Bath), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Ryan Jones (Ospreys) Lou Reed (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Blues), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Scarlets), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Andries Pretorius (Blues)
Backs: Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne), Lloyd Williams (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Alex Cuthbert (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Eli Walker (Ospreys), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Clermont). (Writing by Justin Palmer, editing by Mark Meadows)