Wales name side for Six Nations opener against England
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has predicted his side’s meeting with England in the RBS 6 Nations opener at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night will be “a battle of inches not yards.”
Howley is in charge of a back line which sees Scarlets wing Morgan Stoddart return to international duty for the first time since the Autumn of 2008 and finds a place for Osprey James Hook at full back with his regional colleague Lee Byrne on the bench.
Elsewhere the centre partnership of Jamie Roberts (Blues) and Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) which proved successful on the recent summer tour of New Zealand is restored with halfbacks Mike Phillips (Ospreys) and Stephen Jones (Scarlets) also retained.
Former IRB World Player of the Year Shane Williams (Ospreys) has returned from injury to take up his place on the wing and complete the back three alongside Stoddart and Hook.
Up front 25-year-old Ospreys tight-head Craig Mitchell wins his first start and his fifth cap alongside captain Matthew Rees (Scarlets) at hooker and regional colleague Paul James on the other side of the scrum.
The regular pairing of Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys) and Bradley Davies (Blues) make up the second row with Blues youngster Sam Warburton joining Dragons blindside Dan Lydiate on the flanks together with Wasps No8 Andy Powell.
“In the front row we have two guys who have done well at regional level and know each others games either side of our leader and the Lions hooker in Matthew Rees, so we are comfortable with the selection,” said Howley.
“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 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 through 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 of to a great start and create some momentum and I can’t think of a better place for a Welshman to do that.”
On the bench Rhys Priestland is the only uncapped player – he will be Wales’ 1,079th player if he gets on – where he is joined by a wealth of experience in Sale scrum-half Dwayne Peel, lock/back row Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas (both Ospreys), Blues prop John Yapp, Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard and the 38-times capped Byrne.
Wales: James Hook; Morgan Stoddart, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Matthew Rees (C), Craig Mitchell, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Andy Powell
Replacements TBC: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Ryan Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Dwayne Peel, Rhys Priestland, Lee Byrne.