By Adam Ellis
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made ten changes to his starting line-up for Sunday’s Six Nations match against Italy.
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Taulupe Faletau returns for the penultimate round of the championship and takes the captain’s armband as Alun Wyn Jones is rested. The number 8 returns to the international fold following a spell on the sidelines with a knee ligament injury.
For his first match as captain Faletau is joined in the back-row by Justin Tipuric at blindside flanker and debutant James Davies. The younger brother of Wales centre Jonathan Davies has had to wait his turn to earn a first cap after starring for the Scarlets in their PRO14 success and strong showing in the Champions Cup this season.
An all-new front row sees Nicky Smith at loosehead alongside Elliot Dee and Tomas Francis, as Bradley Davies stands in at lock for Jones.
Among the backs, George North, Gareth Anscombe and Owen Watkin get the nod to walk out at the Principality Stadium. North comes in at wing after Northampton Saints interim coach Alan Gaffney suggested indirectly that the player did not want to play in their match against Sale last Saturday.
Speaking of the team changes, Gatland told wru.co.uk: “There is some real experience coming back into the side with George North, Justin Tipuric and Liam Williams to full-back. Then there’s a chance to give some younger players an opportunity with experience around them.
“Scott Williams has a bad haematoma and Samson Lee has been sick, while it is a chance to rest Alun Wyn Jones who has played a lot of rugby.”
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Cory Hill, 5 Bradley Davies, 6 Justin Tipuric, 7 James Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau (Capt)
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny