McNicholl lines up in a side packed with experience as the defending champions begin their campaign at Principality Stadium on Saturday. He is joined in the back three by Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny.
Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Dillon Lewis comprise the front row with Jake Ball partnering captain Alun-Wyn Jones in the second row. Aaron Wainwright and Justin Tipuric are joined by Taulupe Faletau in the back row, with the No8 making his first international appearance since March 2018.
“I’m really happy with the side and really looking forward to this weekend,” said Wales boss Pivac. “It’s great for Johnny McNicholl to get his first cap, I thought he played really well against the Barbarians so it is a great opportunity for him this weekend.
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World Rugby have added pressure on teams to improve their results in 2020
“George has had a number of games in the midfield for Wales and more recently for the Ospreys and he has been running there in training. We have been impressed with him there and he is excited by the opportunity.
“Nick (Tompkins) has trained really well and has impressed and we are looking forward to seeing him at some stage during the game.
#WALvITA TEAM ? Johnny McNicholl set for first cap, uncapped Nick Tompkins named on bench for #GuinnessSixNations opener in Cardiff ??????? Taulupe Faletau yn dychwelyd i'r tîm am y tro cyntaf ers y Chwe Gwlad 2018. #HWFN
— Welsh Rugby Union ? (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 30, 2020
“We’ve had a couple of injuries, Josh Navidi picked up a hamstring injury so he is out for a few weeks, while Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Gareth Davies and Elliot Dee weren’t quite ready to be available for selection.
“The whole team has a great vibe and we are looking forward to getting out there in front of our home supporters on Saturday.”
Rhys Webb has unfinished business with Wales but with Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams in possession of the No 9 shirt, can he convince Wayne Pivac he's worth a shot?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 25, 2020
On the bench uncapped centre Tompkins is named alongside Rhys Webb and Jarrod Evans as the backline cover. Ryan Elias, Rob Evans and Leon Brown will cover the front row with Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty completing the forward contingent.
There is no place in the matchday 23 for uncapped 18-year-old Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit
WALES (vs Italy, Saturday)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (85 caps)
14. Johnny McNicholl (*uncapped)
13. George North (91 caps)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (25 caps)
11. Josh Adams (21 caps)
10. Dan Biggar (79 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (16 caps)
1. Wyn Jones (22 caps)
2. Ken Owens (73 caps)
3. Dillon Lewis (22 caps)
4. Jake Ball (42 vaps)
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (134 caps, capt)
6. Aaron Wainwright (18 caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (72 caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (72 caps)
16. Ryan Elias (9 caps)
17. Rob Evans (36 caps)
18. Leon Brown (6 caps)
19. Cory Hill (24 caps)
20. Ross Moriarty (41 caps)
21. Rhys Webb (31 caps)
22. Jarrod Evans (3 caps)
23. Nick Tompkins (*uncapped)
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