Wales have made two changes to their starting line-up for the RBS 6 Nations final round clash with France in Paris on Saturday (8.45pm, local).
British & Irish Lions and Ospreys prop Adam Jones completes his return from injury (elbow) to start in the front row and Scarlets flier George North takes up a starting position on the wing.
Both changes have been enforced through injury with Ospreys prop Craig Mitchell (shoulder) and wing Shane Williams (knee) withdrawing after the 19 -13 victory over Ireland at the Millennium Stadium last weekend.
“We are going into the final round of the Championship in second place and still with a shot at the title,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.
“That’s pleasing, but it is not good enough yet, we need to finish the job and win in France. That is the only element of this weekend we can control and it is vitally important that we maintain our focus on what will be one of the toughest challenges of this campaign.”
Skills coach Neil Jenkins has welcomed the timely return of Jones, who played his first rugby after injury for the Ospreys 10 days ago, and North (shoulder) to full fitness.
“Adam (Jones) is quite a player to have coming back into your side, he is a British Lion and one of the best players in his position in the world so we are very happy that he has timed his return from injury to perfection,”said Jenkins.
“Craig (Mitchell) has done a great job for us so far this campaign, but it is reassuring to know Adam is there to slot straight back in. We know now that when everyone is fit we will have real depth in that front row. It goes without saying that we will miss Shane (Williams), any side would, but George presents an entirely different prospect.
“He will want to get involved in the game and he has got all the attributes to do himself and Wales justice on Saturday. He will be looking forward to the challenge, we are putting no pressure on him, he will just be told to go out there and enjoy his rugby.”
On the replacements bench the same forwards – Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Jonathan Thomas and Rob McCusker – provide cover for the pack and the experienced duo of Stephen Jones (Scarlets) and Dwayne Peel (Sharks) are also retained to provide the half-back cover.
Wing Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets) remains after closely missing out on a recall to the starting line-up, with regional team-mate North preferred.
“Morgan (Stoddart) has been unlucky, he was definitely in the running to come onto the wing and there was not a lot in it,”added Jenkins.
“We know he won’t let anyone down if called upon and we have plenty of experience elsewhere on the bench who may well have a role to play. France are always tough opponents on their own patch, they have some great players and are a top class side when they get things right so we are in no doubt that this is going to be an incredibly tough game.
“But we won’t think too much about what they are going to do, we will concentrate on ourselves and we know there is a chance that we can still have more to say in this Championship.
“Our focus must be on winning this next game, it’s a big year for us with the World Cup just around the corner. We have the Barbarians, England and Argentina all at the Millennium Stadium this summer and although we can’t look past France at the moment we are all well aware of what a win could do for us in the long term.”
WALES:Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, George North; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Matthew Rees (C), Adam Jones, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones
REPLACEMENTS: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Jonathan Thomas, Rob McCusker, Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones, Morgan Stoddart