Priestland gets nod at 10 for Wales
January 28, 2014
Priestland will lead the line for Wales against the Azzurri © Getty Images
Rhys Priestland has been handed a start at fly-half over Dan Biggar in Warren Gatland's squad to face Italy at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The fly-half spot had been the only real point of contention going into the game, but Scarlets' Priestland has been given the nod by Warren Gatland. Sam Warburton - who signed a historic WRU central contract on Saturday - drops to the bench as he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury, with Alun-Wyn Jones taking on the captaincy.
Priestland has been rewarded for fine Heineken Cup form for the Scarlets ahead of Ospreys fly-half Biggar, who does not make the bench. With Jonathan Davies out through injury, Garland turns to Priestland's club team-mate Scott Williams to partner Jamie Roberts at centre.
Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau make up the back row, with Alun-Wyn Jones in front of them captaining the side - as he did in the third British & Irish Lions test in Warburton's absence. Gethin Jenkins misses out due to a knee injury so Bath's Paul Jones forms a front row trio with Lions pair Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones.
Warren Gatland has the luxury of selecting from a settled squad and there are no real surprises other than Warburton dropping to the bench, with an incredible 11 Lions making the starting XV ahead of the opening of Wales' historic bid for a third successive Six Nations crown.
The strong squad selection shows Gatland is not taking the Italians lightly, after the Azzurri won two games in the 2013 Six Nations against France and Ireland. Gatland also admits Wales' 33-20 opening day defeat to Ireland last year is still fresh in his mind.
"We are looking for a good start, we started slowly last year and know we need to be ready from the off," Gatland said.
"Italy started last year's tournament with a win over France so they will be ready on Saturday and we need to start well and build confidence and momentum.
"It's a strong, experienced side, but there was a lot of discussion about the selection which is a great position to be in as a coach.
"We've almost everyone fit for selection which is pretty rare. Alun-Wyn will lead the side with Sam starting on the bench and he has come through training well."
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Luke Charteris, Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Ken Owens, Ryan Bevington, Rhodri Jones, Andrew Coombs, Sam Warburton, Rhys Webb, James Hook, Liam Williams
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