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Warren Gatland names his Wales Six Nations team to play Ireland

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)

New Wales boss Warren Gatland has named a team to face Ireland in this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener in Cardiff that shows three changes from the Wayne Pivac XV beaten 34-39 by Australia last time out in November. That loss just over nine weeks ago was the final outing in the Pivac era, the WRU deciding to sack the head coach they had appointed in 2019 to take over when Gatland stepped aside following his fourth-place World Cup finish.

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Gatland had spent the recent Autumn Nations Series doing TV punditry work and it was December 6, just 10 days after the loss to the Wallabies, that he was named as the replacement for the sacked Pivac. Having since revamped his coaching assistants, bringing in the likes of Alex King and Mike Forshaw, a 37-strong squad containing four uncapped players was named on January 17 for the championship.

A fortnight later, Gatland has now named his team to take on Ireland, bringing forward his announcement by a couple of days. It was last Friday when a WRU media release said that the team naming would take place this Thursday, two days before the clash with the Irish.

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However, amid the climate of negative publicity about the WRU which culminated in Sunday’s resignation of CEO Steve Phillips, an updated selection plan was circulated on Monday stating that Gatland would now publicly name his XV at noon on Tuesday.

Leigh Halfpenny, a sub last time out on November 26, is named at full-back with Josh Adams switching to the right wing and Alex Cuthbert dropping to a bench that contains eight different names from the reserves selected versus the Wallabies. Dan Biggar is at out-half for the injured Gareth Anscombe while the sole change in the pack sees Tomas Francis picked as starting tighthead in place of the benched Dillon Lewis.

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Out-half Owen Williams and hooker Scott Baldwin, whose last appearances in a Wales jersey came in 2017, are both named in the match day 23. “There is a mixture in the team of some experience, some younger players. We were conscious as well picking the bench. We think we have got a bench that can come on and have an impact,” reckoned Gatland.

“Ireland are the No1 team in the world, so they are going to be coming here with a lot of confidence. You don’t become the No1 team in the world without having some pretty consistent performances. We know how good they are and we are expecting a really tough contest. It’s important for us that we start well, but we need to be in the game at the last 20 minutes.

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“We have only had a couple of weeks together but I’m confident that the guys will go out and give a good account of themselves. They are pretty excited about playing this first game at home.”

Wales (vs Ireland, Saturday)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 97 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 43 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 109 caps)
12. Joe Hawkins (Ospreys – 1 cap)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 3 caps)
10. Dan Biggar (Toulon – 103 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 40 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 17 caps)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets – 86 caps) captain
3. Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 67 caps)
4. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 41 caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 155 caps)
6. Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 6 caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 89 caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 95 caps)

Replacements
16. Scott Baldwin (Ospreys – 34 caps)
17. Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby – 17 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 45 caps)
19. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 1 cap)
20. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 4 caps)
21. Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 36 caps)
22. Owen Williams (Ospreys – 3 caps)
23. Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys – 55 caps)

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