Powell and Halfpenny to make Wales debuts
November 4, 2008
Andy Powell has been rewarded for his outstanding club form with a debut on Saturday © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues pair Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell will make their Wales debuts in Saturday's Millennium Stadium clash against world champions South Africa.
Halfpenny, 19, replaces injured Scarlets wing Mark Jones, while number eight Powell packs down in the back row alongside his Blues colleague Martyn Williams and skipper Ryan Jones. Ospreys hooker Huw Bennett, who was injured on Anglo-Welsh Cup duty last weekend, is another absentee, with Scarlets' Matthew Rees starting in the number two shirt.
And Wales head coach Warren Gatland has sprung a surprise at scrum-half, preferring Gloucester's Gareth Cooper to the more experienced Dwayne Peel, who has to content himself with a place on the bench while Stephen Jones edges out James Hook for fly-half duties.
Behind the scrum, Gavin Henson and Jamie Roberts were set to forge a new-look centre combination before the former was ruled out of the clash on Friday. As a result Roberts was moved to inside centre with the Blues' Tom Shanklin moving up from the bench.
There are seven changes from Wales' last game - a 37-21 defeat against the Springboks in Pretoria almost five months ago while Ospreys prop Adam Jones wins his 50th cap, making him the 23rd Welsh player to reach that landmark. Halfpenny, a member of the Wales Under-20 World Cup squad this summer, has taken senior rugby by storm. He has scored seven tries in just seven appearances for the Blues, including three during their current Heineken Cup campaign.
The 27-year-old Powell, meanwhile, has waited far longer for his international opportunity during a career that saw him play for Newport, Beziers, Leicester and the Scarlets before linking up with the Blues. He has also recovered from reconstruction surgery on both shoulders during the past two years, and he goes into the autumn Test series opener as Welsh rugby's form number eight. Gatland said, "Both of the debutants have been form players so far this season, so they now get a chance to test themselves against the very best team in the world.
"At 19 years old, our message to Leigh has been to just go out there and enjoy himself. He needs to play without fear and enjoy the experience. Andy Powell is a little different. He has been around for a while and is an experienced head, despite his lack of international caps.
"But he is most definitely in form. We will be looking to get the ball in his hands and see him run. Ryan Jones is adept on either side of the scrum, but to switch our captain (from number eight) does tell you a little bit about what we think of Andy. At scrum-half, Gareth Cooper is the man in possession of the shirt after doing well for us, particularly in the second Test on tour this summer, and he has been rewarded."
Wales have only beaten the Springboks once in 22 attempts, with South Africa chasing a 10th successive victory over the reigning Six Nations champions.
South Africa coach Peter De Villiers has named a powerful and experienced side for the trip to the Millennium Stadium, including captain and World Cup-winning hooker John Smit packing down at tight-head prop.
De Villiers admitted he was "prepared for all eventualities" after taking a gamble on the fitness of Bakkies Botha for Saturday's Test against Wales in Cardiff.
Botha made a surprise return to the starting line-up named by De Villiers on Tuesday, just 24 hours after team doctor Craig Roberts said the player would only be able to play for around 30 minutes given his current fitness levels. The 29-year-old lock has been out since August with a knee ligament injury picked up against Argentina, but De Villiers has decided to take a risk with his fitness after he impressed in recent training sessions.
"He looks to be in good shape and we're prepared to take a chance with him in the starting line-up. We'll see how he does," said De Villiers. "We are prepared if we have to take him off and we're prepared for all eventualities."
Elsewhere in De Villiers' starting XV, Tendai Mtawarira will partner Bismarck du Plessis and Smit in the front row while Pierre Spies is preferred to Ryan Kankowski at number eight. Smit said of his switch to the tighthead berth: "It's a major challenge for me, and one I am looking forward to. I'm aware I'm coming up against a strong loosehead in Gethin [Jenkins] and he's likely to be a tough opponent. But that's what makes the challenge greater."
In all, De Villiers made five changes to the side which thumped Australia 53-8 in the Tri-Nations two months ago. His selection also comprises 11 of the team that beat Wales in two Tests in June.
The match will be the 23rd Test between South Africa and Wales since 1906, and is the third and final encounter of the Prince William Cup, which the Springboks secured back in June with wins in Bloemfontein and Pretoria. Ricky Januarie is the only bench survivor from the Australia Test, with Ruan Pienaar graduating to the starting XV, Danie Rossouw omitted from the matchday 22, Percy Montgomery retired and Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis and Luke Watson not in the touring squad.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones Scarlets), G Cooper(Gloucester); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans(Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams(Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues)
Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), Duncan Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), A bishop (Ospreys)
South Africa: Conrad Jantjes: JP Pietersen, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana; Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez; Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, John Smit (capt), Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies.
Replacements: Brian Mujati, Gurthro Steenkamp, Andries Bekker, Ryan Kankowski, Ricky Januarie, Frans Steyn, Jaque Fourie.
Referee: Alan Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Alan Lewis (Ireland), George Clancy (Ireland)