Alun-Wyn Jones will make his debut as Wales captain next week - and he could keep the job for a potential RBS 6 Nations title showdown against Ireland.
Wales boss Warren Gatland wants to experience “selection headaches” before facing the Grand Slam-chasing Irish in Cardiff on March 21.
Jones will give Gatland plenty of food for thought if he leads Wales to a stylish, points-laden victory over Six Nations whipping boys Italy in Rome.
Gatland’s 2008 Grand Slam captain Ryan Jones is widely expected to return for the Ireland game, but, asked if Alun-Wyn Jones may retain the role should Wales deliver at Stadio Flaminio, Gatland replied: “Why not?”
Ryan Jones is among 10 players who drop out of Gatland’s starting XV, following the Grand Slam-ending defeat against France six days ago.
Jones will be a replacement in Rome - fellow Grand Slam stars like Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips and Tom Shanklin join him - and Gatland’s support cast have now been challenged to hog the limelight.
Gatland said: “We have decided to back the squad and the depth of the squad.
“The top teams have no worries about making changes. The All Blacks, for instance, put out almost a second team against Scotland in November - they backed their squad’s strength in depth.
“This is an opportunity for a lot of players to put themselves in contention for the Ireland game. There is nothing better than having selection headaches the following week.
“Alun-Wyn has had a fantastic season so far. He is well respected by the players and he will lead from the front. He is a possible Wales captain of the future.
“I spoke to Ryan yesterday and said I planned to make a number of changes. I told him he would be on the bench, and he had no problem with it.
“There are a lot of players in the squad who have worked hard but not had the opportunity. We are giving them a chance.
“We have come a long way in the last 12 months and achieved a fantastic amount, but the best teams in the world develop depth of experience in their squad and back themselves.
“The choice of Alun-Wyn as captain next week is an example of us doing exactly that and also looking to the future.”