Priestland and Roberts boost for Wales
February 3, 2012
Rhys Priestland was arguably the best fly-half at the recent Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts will both start for Wales in the Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday.
Scarlets fly-half Priestland and Blues centre Roberts have recovered from knee injuries in time to take their places in a starting line-up which shows six changes to that which faced Australia at the Millennium Stadium in December and just five from that which defeated Ireland in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals six weeks earlier.
Saracens loose-head prop Rhys Gill comes into the side for the injured Gethin Jenkins (knee), after winning his other cap two years ago - appearing from the bench against Ireland at Croke Park. Blues wing Alex Cuthbert, who made his debut against Australia before Christmas, makes his first start profiting from the retirement of Shane Williams, with Scarlets wing George North switching flanks to take the No.11 jersey synonymous with Wales' top try scorer. The third player with a single cap to his name is Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, who starts on the bench after making his debut at the RWC in the Pool D clash with Namibia.
Elsewhere in the starting XV, the Scarlets' Jonathan Davies is reunited with Roberts and Bayonne scrum-half Mike Phillips also returns. Davies replaces his Regional colleague Scott Williams and Phillips replaces Blues half back Lloyd Williams, with both departing players providing cover from the bench. Ospreys and British and Irish Lions prop Adam Jones returns to the front row alongside Gill and hooker Huw Bennett who is set for his 50th Test cap. The final change from the Australia match sees another Osprey Ryan Jones come into the back-row for injured Dragon Dan Lydiate (ankle).
The second row duo of the Ospreys' Ian Evans and the Blues' Bradley Davies is retained, with this pairing giving the side a different look as neither figured in the RWC showdown with Ireland. Blues fullback Leigh Halfpenny, Roberts, North, Priestland, Bennett, captain Sam Warburton and No.8 Toby Faletau are all retained from last time out in Cardiff and all figured at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
"We have been able to retain continuity in some key areas, we have been working hard and we feel we are approaching this match with the right attitude and with some good preparation work done," said head coach Warren Gatland.
"We are two sides who know each other well, Ireland will not have enjoyed losing to us in New Zealand, they will want to redress the balance in Dublin this weekend, but they will find us in just as determined mood."
On the bench Perpignan's James Hook provides further cover for the backs and is joined by prop Paul James, No.8 Andy Powell and flanker Justin Tipuric.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Michael Phillips; Rhys Gill, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Bradley Davies, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Sam Warburton (C), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Paul James, Andy Powell, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams
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