WARREN GATLAND named his Wales team to play Ireland in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final in Wellington and admitted that the selection meeting had been one of the toughest of his career.
Rookie fly-half Rhys Priestland retains the No 10 jersey ahead of Wales most-capped player Stephen Jones, who doesn’t make the 22, while Leigh Halfpenny’s good form has been rewarded with a start at full-back ahead of James Hook and Lee Byrne. Hook, who has recovered from injury, has to make do with a place on the bench.
There are four changes to the starting line-up from the XV that beat Fiji 66-0. Shane Williams returns from injury to form a dangerous back three with Halfpenny and George North, Jonathan Davies comes in to the centres in place of Scott Williams, fit-again Dan Lydiate replaces Ryan Jones and Alun Wyn Jones is one of the starting locks as Bradley Davies moves to the bench.
This was the first time at the World Cup that Gatland has been able to select from a squad of 30 fit players and he admitted that the form of some in New Zealand had made his life difficult, particularly when it came to picking his starting fly-half and full-back.
“This was a tough selection for us, probably one of the longest selection meetings we’ve ever had, where we went through every possible permutation available to us,” said the Wales coach. “It’s a great position to be in when you’re struggling to find a place for players in the squad and the starting line-up, instead of having to think who can make up the numbers.
“As a 22, we believe this side gives us the best chance of winning this game against an Ireland team which not only topped their group but beat the Wallabies on the way.”
WALES TEAM TO PLAY IRELAND, SATURDAY 8 OCTOBER, 6AM, LIVE ON ITV1
Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau
Replacements: Lloyd Burns, Paul James, Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams