Warburton back as France change five
March 15, 2012
Matthew Rees will win his 50th cap for Wales © Getty Images
Sam Warburton has recovered from a knee injury to lead Wales in Saturday's Grand Slam showdown with France in Cardiff.
The Cardiff Blues flanker replaces Justin Tipuric at openside in the only change to the starting side that battled past Italy, with the Ospreys back-rower missing out on a place in the 22 altogether.
Wales boss Warren Gatland has gambled on the fitness of his skipper and not included specialist openside cover among the replacements, where Ryan Jones deputises in the back-row and Luke Charteris provides back-up to locks Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans. Warburton was sent-off the last time the teams met - in last year's Rugby World Cup semi-final at Eden Park.
Matthew Rees has been retained at hooker, seeing off the challenge of Scarlets team-mate Ken Owens to win his 50th cap, while props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones - as well as Ryan Jones - are in line to win a third Grand Slam if Wales can account for France.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has made five changes and one positional switch. Saint-Andre has recalled Toulouse's Florian Fritz to his midfield - where he partners Aurelien Rougerie - in order to combat Wales' heavyweight centre pairing, with Wesley Fofana shunted to the wing after four tries in his first four Test starts.
Scrum-half Julien Dupuy was axed from the squad earlier this week and Dimitri Yachvili starts in Cardiff, with Morgan Parra again among the replacements. Lionel Beauxis retains the No.10 jersey.
Perpignan tight-head Nicolas Mas loses out to Stade Francais' David Attoub, who is now playing again after serving a 70-week ban for eye-gouging Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris during a Heineken Cup clash between Stade and Ulster.
At hooker, William Servat is recalled in place of Dimitri Szarzewski, while Toulon's Alexis Palisson starts on the wing due to an injury to Toulouse flyer Vincent Clerc.
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons)
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets)
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), F Fritz (Toulouse), A Palisson (Toulon); L Beauxis (Stade Francais), D Yachvili (Biarritz); J-B Poux (Toulouse), W Servat (Toulouse), D Attoub (Stade Francais), P Pape (Stade Francais), Y Maestri (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), L Picamoles (Toulouse), M Parra (Clermont), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), J-M Buttin (Clermont Auvergne)
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Women's World Cup, the opening round of the Top 14 and the Rugby Championship