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Warren Gatland names Wales team with six changes and no AWJ

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ian Cook/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Warren Gatland has made six changes to his Wales team – including axing record caps holder Alun Wyn Jones – for Saturday’s de facto wooden spoon decider versus Italy in Rome. The 10-20 loss to England in round three was the third February setback for the Welsh in this year’s Guinness Six Nations and the head coach has reacted by ringing a half-dozen changes.

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In the backs, Liam Williams is at full-back for Leigh Halfpenny, Rio Dyer is back on the left wing in place of the benched Louis Rees-Zammit, and Rhys Webb is named at scrum-half for Tomos Williams, another who slips down to the replacements. Webb had benched versus Ireland and Scotland, but this will be his first Test start since 2020.

In the pack, Wyn Jones is named at loosehead in place of the benched Gareth Thomas, Daffyd Jenkins is at lock in place of the veteran Jones, who is missing from the match day 23, while Jac Morgan is chosen at blindside with Christ Tshiunza also excluded entirely.

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On the much-changed bench, Scott Baldwin, Thomas, Rhys Davies, Williams, George North and Rees-Zammit are respectively named in place of Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, the promoted Jenkins, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar and Nick Tompkins.

Gatland said: “We feel that having watched Italy and how they will tend to play from everywhere, including their own 22, getting guys on the ball is going to be pretty important. Rhys Webb gets an opportunity at nine having been training well. He has been great in the squad, he brings that experience and a voice to that nine position.

“Liam Williams comes in at full back. We did discuss whether we put Louis Rees-Zammit to full-back and how that would have looked, but he still hasn’t played a lot of rugby in terms of coming back from a relatively long injury with his ankle. We just felt with the way the game is going to be and the pace of the game, that him coming off the bench and the impact he can have could be pretty important.

“We have been disappointed with the results so far and for me it is hard to take as it’s the first time I have lost three games in the Six Nations with Wales. We have had a lot of things going on off the field as well but there are no excuses.

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“The message to the players has been that we have to be smart in terms of the way we play but we have also got to be brave and make sure that when the opportunities are on, we shift the ball. We have to keep scanning and looking at options and if there is a chance to move the ball then be brave and do that.”

Wales team (vs Italy, Saturday – 2:15pm)
15. Liam Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 83 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 47 caps)
13. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 1 cap)
12. Joe Hawkins (Ospreys – 4 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 5 caps)
10. Owen Williams (Ospreys – 5 caps)
9. Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 38 caps)
1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets – 46 caps
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets – 89 caps) captain
3. Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 69 caps)
4. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 44 caps)
5. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 4 caps)
6. Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 8 caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 91 caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 98 caps)

Replacements
16. Scott Baldwin (Ospreys – 36 caps)
17. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 19 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 48 caps)
19. Rhys Davies (Ospreys – 1 cap)
20. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 7 caps)
21. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 43 caps)
22. George North (Ospreys – 111 caps)
23. Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 23 caps)

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