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Farewell to old guard as Gatland looks to the future.

Byline: Simon Thomas Rugby correspondent

SO, is this the end of an era for Wales? No Adam Jones and no James Hook.

Having been squad regulars for years and years, both have now been omitted from Warren Gatland's 34-man party for the autumn internationals.

While the Kiwi coach stresses the door hasn't been closed on anyone not selected, one has to wonder whether we will see either player in a Wales jersey again.

Adam is now 33 and you could say the writing has been on the wall for a few months.

He was omitted from the starting line-up for the final Six Nations match against Scotland and went on to have a traumatic tour of South Africa.

His 100th Test ended prematurely and embarrassingly when he was hauled off after just 33 minutes of the series opener against the Springboks in Durban.

Then he found himself left out of the match-day squad altogether for the rematch in Nelspruit.

Now comes a further body blow as he's consigned to the international wilderness.

It's been a rapid fall from grace for the triple Grand Slam-winning prop.

For the best part of a decade, he has been a virtual fixture in the Wales team and for much of that time he has been seen as practically irreplaceable.

In some ways, he was the most important member of the team, acting as the priceless scrum cornerstone of the pack.

If ever he was injured, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, with people questioning how we would possibly cope in his absence.

Yet now he finds himself surplus to requirements.

Just a couple of weeks ago, he was vowing to win back his Wales jersey, but - after a summer spent without a club - he clearly hasn't pulled up enough trees with the Blues to convince Gatland he merits a place in the squad.

There has been much debate over whether or not the Kiwi commander-in-chief would try to keep some of his old guard going through to the 2015 World Cup.

Well, in the case of Jones, it seems as though he might have decided that would be a campaign too far.

So, he has opted to look to the future by choosing young guns Samson Lee, Rhodri Jones and Aaron Jarvis as his three tight-heads for the autumn campaign, which includes Tests against all three southern hemisphere giants.

If it is to prove 100 and out for Jones, then it's a fitting moment to pay tribute to the huge contribution he has made to Wales over the past decade. He has done his country proud.

As for Hook, it's a slightly different scenario. The 76-cap utility back is still only 29, so there would be no issue in terms of getting him through to next year.

But he has become more and more of a fringe figure over the last few seasons, starting just the two Tests since the 2011 World Cup.

Now he finds himself beyond the fringe.

Once Gatland had decided he was only going to pick two outside-halves in his squad, it was going to come down to a choice between Hook and Rhys Priestland, with Dan Biggar very much the man in possession of the No.10 jersey.

In the end, it's Scarlets playmaker Priestland who has got the vote.

Listening to Gatland's general comments, the fact Hook plays his rugby outside of Wales with Gloucester might have counted against him in a close call, with the problems that creates in terms of availability for all matches and training sessions.

With Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams both on hand, there is no requirement for cover at full-back either, so that's that and potentially the end of another era.

For those who have long been admirers and advocates of the creative, classy qualities of Hook it will be a sad day.

It will long be a matter of debate whether Wales have made the most of one of the most natural talents of his generation.

The sense of an era ending is also evident with the omission of Matthew Rees.

Former skipper "Smiler" provided arguably the most uplifting story of last season by overcoming testicular cancer and fighting his way back into the Wales squad.

He ended up played in both Tests on the summer tour of South Africa to complete a truly remarkable tale.

But now he misses out on selection for the autumn, with Richard Hibbard, Emyr Phillips and the inform Scott Baldwin occupying the hooking berths.

With his 34th birthday coming up in December, you have to suspect the 60-cap Rees has probably pulled on the Wales jersey for the last time.

Not that he's a man who ever gives up on any fight.

Another seasoned international to miss out is Ian Evans, with the 30-year-old lock having inevitably reduced his chances of selection somewhat by moving to second-tier Championship side Bristol.

With Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris having both returned from injury just in time, Alun Wyn Jones a nailedon starter and Jake Ball one of the finds of last season, there was to be no room for the 33-cap Evans.

As for other notable omissions, there's bad news for Josh Turnbull, which is something of a turn up given he had a fine game in the second Test against South Africa as an emergency openside.

Occupying that role was always going to be a one-off, with skipper Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric available again.

But he would have hoped to be contesting his preferred blindside berth with Dan Lydiate, who has had so little rugby with Racing Metro this season.

Yet he finds himself out of the frame, with fellow tourist Aaron Shingler also excluded, as James King's form for the Ospreys sees him get the nod as the second six.

It's a shame to see another onsong Liberty lad, winger Eli Walker once again miss out through injury.

He would have offered something different to the big men, George North and Alex Cuthbert, with his electrifying, elusive running and the x-factor threat he offers from broken play.

Yet having seen last season wrecked with hamstring trouble, he now has a shoulder issue, and in his absence it's the Dragons duo Hallam Amos and Tom Prydie who are chosen to provide the cover out wide. There's just the one uncapped player in the squad in young Ospreys prop Nicky Smith.

Loosehead is arguably the most competitive position of all, with the likes of Rob Evans, Sam Hobbs and Rhys Gill all missing out despite being in good nick.

Yet everyone you talk to about Smith speaks glowingly of him and everything you hear about the lad makes you think he has a big, big future.

Aside from the Swansea-born 20-year-old, there are no other new faces in the squad.

Yet there is still very much a sense of the changing of the guard.

Just as he did before the last World Cup, Gatland looks to be bidding farewell to some stalwarts and freshening things up with young blood as he prepares for another assault on the Webb Ellis trophy.


James Hook and Adam Jones (inset left) are both casualties of the latest Wales squad selection <B
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 22, 2014
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