Six Nations

Wales ring changes for opener

2011-02-02 16:19
James Hook has been given the nod to take the number 15 jersey. (Gallo)
Cardiff - Wales selectors have announced seven changes to the starting line-up for the Six Nations opener against England on Friday night, having lost six and drawn one of their last seven Tests.

Perpignan-bound James Hook was given the nod at full-back ahead of his fellow British and Irish Lion Lee Byrne, who was named among the replacements.

Coach Warren Gatland has paired Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies together in midfield, with Scarlets wing Morgan Stoddart taking the number 14 shirt that was destined for Leigh Halfpenny until he went down with an ankle injury during training.

In the pack, Ospreys props Paul James and Craig Mitchell fill the vacancies created by injured Lions Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, while Wasps' Andy Powell dons the number eight shirt.

Former Wales captain Ryan Jones and scrum-half Dwayne Peel join Byrne on the bench, where 62-times capped Jonathan Thomas provides back-row cover.

Roberts returns after missing the entire autumn Test series through injury, and Wales' record try-scorer Shane Williams has recovered from a dislocated shoulder to earn his 76th cap.

But Gatland's list of absentees comprises Halfpenny, Jenkins, Jones, George North, Tom Shanklin, Andrew Bishop and Richie Rees.

Assistant coach Rob Howley said: "In the front row we have two guys who have done well at regional level, and know each other's games either side of hooker Matthew Rees, so we are comfortable with the selection.

"The second row has been consistent in recent times, and we have two good youngsters who have both been playing exceptionally well, coming into the back row.

"Dan (Lydiate) was magnificent for us in the autumn, and Sam (Warburton) has been going great for the Blues in Europe recently, and there is a nice balance there with the ball-carrying abilities of Andy Powell completing the trio.

"This is going to be a battle of inches and not yards, and we know that if the pack can dominate like they did in our autumn games, we are in with a good chance.

"We did debate selection at fly-half and elsewhere in the backs, but we feel we have settled on the right pairing there with the experience they offer.

"Lee Byrne misses out solely by virtue of the fact he has had limited game time after injury, and he will offer us some impact from the bench, which is fairly experienced in itself and will undoubtedly be utilised during the evening.

"We are playing England at the home of Welsh rugby at the start of the Rugby World Cup year, so we are looking to get ourselves off to a great start and create some momentum, and I can't think of a better place for a Welshman to do that."

Wales XV (15-1)

15. James Hook (Ospreys), 14. Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), 13. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), 12. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), 11. Shane Williams (Ospreys), 10. Stephen Jones (Scarlets), 9. Michael Phillips (Ospreys), 8. Andy Powell (Wasps), 7. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), 6. Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), 5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys), 4. Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), 3. Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), 2. Matthew Rees (Scarlets, capt), 1. Paul James (Ospreys).

Substitutes: Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), John Yapp (Cardiff Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Lee Byrne (Ospreys).

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