Wales: ‘Disappointed’ Warren Gatland explains Joe Hawkins absence from preliminary Rugby World Cup squad

Adam Kyriacou
Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland admits he’s “disappointed” with Joe Hawkins’ decision to move to the Premiership after he was left out of Wales’ 54-player training squad.

Hawkins, 20, was billed as having a bright future in the international game after impressive performances in his five caps since making his debut in 2022.

But the Ospreys product decided earlier in the season that he would be furthering his club career with Exeter Chiefs next term, thus ending his Test hopes.

Hawkins‘ absence is due to the Welsh Rugby Union’s 25-cap policy whereby players who play outside Wales must have 25 caps to represent their country.

That means Gatland is without one of Wales’ most promising players in his preliminary World Cup squad, with the head coach frustrated by the situation.

Was a big part of Wales’ future

“He’s made his decision to go to Exeter and I have spoken to him two or three times,” said the Wales head coach after naming a large group on Monday.

“We told him he was a big part of our future and definitely in the 23, either in the midfield or at 10.

“We are disappointed that he’s made that decision. He feels at the moment that going to play club rugby in England will be good for his development.

“He felt that he was potentially undervalued a little bit. He’s been offered a pretty significant deal and he’s made that decision to move on.

“I’ve got to respect that decision but, from a coaching perspective, we’re disappointed to lose someone of his potential and his talent at least for the next few years.”

Dragons second-row Will Rowlands, who has agreed to join French club Racing 92 next season, has been included despite having only 23 caps to his name.

His registration will remain in Wales during the summer and with three World Cup warm-up games in August that could take him to the threshold required.

“The PRB (Professional Rugby Board) have said that Will Rowlands is eligible,” Gatland said.

“He’s still with the Dragons until the end of the year. He might get a couple more games which would make him eligible from the point of the 25-cap rule.”

Another intriguing inclusion in the squad is former Bath and Sale Sharks prop Henry Thomas, who currently plays his rugby in the Top 14 with Montpellier.

Thomas was capped seven times by England earlier in his career but has served World Rugby’s three-year stand down period to represent another country.

Will bring something different

“He was involved last year with Montpellier winning the league and we think his experience will bring something different,” Gatland said of the Kingston upon Thames-born Thomas, who qualifies through his Welsh father.

“Jonathan Humphreys (forwards coach) reached out and had a conversation with him about being potentially available.

“He was at Sale a number of years ago, they saw him as the big thing and had a lot of time at Bath before moving onto Montpellier.

“You’ve got to be pretty tough to play up front in France given how big some of the forwards are there.

“You’ve got to bring a physical element and be strong at the set-piece. He has also got some good ball-carrying ability and is pretty mobile getting around the park.

“We think he will give us some competition in the front row. He’s been around, so he will hopefully come in and make an impression.”

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup: Wales snub for Exeter-bound Joe Hawkins while Henry Thomas included in preliminary training squad