WALES HAVE made one change to their starting line-up from the team who beat Scotland 24-6 for the RBS 6 Nations Round 3 clash against Italy in Rome on Saturday. Scarlets playmaker Stephen Jones returns at fly half with Osprey James Hook moving to outside centre as Scarlets midfielder Jonathan Davies was not considered after picking up a hamstring injury.
On the bench Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny returns from an ankle injury to fill the berth vacated by the 97-times capped Jones.
“We have selected the strongest possible side, showing the utmost respect to Italy,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland. “We know only too well what tough opponents they are in Rome and so we have picked the strongest team available to us.”
With the only change coming in the backs it’s a case of ‘same again’ for the forward pack that performed so well against Scotland at Murrayfield, according to attack coach Rob Howley. “This is very much a vote of confidence for the forwards, they have been going extremely well as a unit and we are looking for more of the same against Italy,” said Howley. “Our hand has been forced in the back line, Jonathan is simply not ready this weekend after struggling with his hamstring since the Scotland game.”
“The obvious decision then is to move James (Hook) into the centre where he has done well in partnership with Jamie (Roberts). And bringing Stephen (Jones) in at fly half is a great luxury to have. He was hurting after the England game, he will be looking forward to getting back out there and we are very happy to have that option available to us. James wins his 50th cap and we all know what a valuable player he is to this team and what a great servant he has been to Welsh rugby already at just 26 years of age.”
Wales go to Rome looking to build on their performance in Edinburgh and to attempt to consolidate a winning mentality.
“Italy are a different animal at home, they showed that against Ireland,” added Howley. “Since the inception of Italy as a part of the Six Nations they have continued to improve year on year and they are always capable of turning you over. We are under no illusion as to how tough it is going to be for us out there on Saturday, history shows us that it is going to be a very hard day at the office, but we have picked a side to go out there and win.”
Hook will become the 25th Welshman to join the 50 cap club when he runs out at the Stadio Flamino on Saturday and fly half Jones will join Blues flanker Martyn Williams in second place on the all time Welsh appearance list, just two behind Gareth Thomas who leads with 100 caps.
Lee Byrne; Morgan Stoddart, James Hook, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Michael Phillips; Paul James, Matthew Rees (C), Craig Mitchell, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, Ryan Jones
Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Jonathan Thomas, Josh Turnbull, Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Priestland, Leigh Halfpenny