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Six Nations – Warburton benched for Wales, Alun Wyn Jones captains, Priestland starts at 10

Wales have named their side to face Italy in the opening game of the Six Nations on Saturday.

Captain Sam Warburton has been deemed not fit enough to start, however the now centrally contracted Cardiff Blue is on the bench, with Justin Tipuric starting at openside.

Stepping in for Warburton as captain is Alun Wyn-Jones, who captained the Lions in their victorious 3rd Test this summer, the newly signed Ospreys will partner Luke Charteris in the second row, with the Perpignan giant replacing the suspended British and Irish Lion, Ian Evans.

Another absentee British and Irish Lion is Gethin Jenkins, who is resting as he recovers from injury. He is replaced by Bath’s Paul James. Yet another Lion is also missing, Jonathan Davies in the centres, he is replaced by Scott Williams, and Williams will be joined there by the fit again Jamie Roberts.

Despite the absentees, there are still eleven British and Irish Lions in the starting XV, with the all Lions trio of George North, Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert in the back three, and another trio in Tipuric, Toby Faletau, and Dan Lydiate in the back row.

Rhys Priestland gets the nod at fly half ahead of Dan Biggar, with Biggar not even making the bench as the versatile James Hook comes in to offer further options. Partnering Priestland at half back will be the headline shy Mike Phillips, while up front the tried and tested Lions pair of Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones join James in the front row.

Speaking at the selection announcement, Wales’ Head Coach Warren Gatland said:

“We are looking for a good start; we started slowly last year and know we need to be ready from the off, Italy started last year’s tournament with a win over France, so they will be ready on Saturday and we need to start well and build confidence and momentum.”

“It’s a strong, experienced side, but there was a lot of discussion about the selection which is a great position to be in as a coach. We’ve almost everyone fit for selection which is pretty rare.”

“Alun Wyn will lead the side with Sam starting on the bench and he has come through training well.”

Wales are looking to become the first side in Six Nations history to lift the trophy in three consecutive years, following their 2011 and 2012 Championships.

What do you think of the Welsh XV and how do you think Wales will fair in this season’s Six Nations? Let us know via the comment box below or via Twitter at @FifteenRugbyXV

Wales XV v Italy (Kick off  Saturday 14.30, BBC 2):

Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), George North (Northampton Saints); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro); Paul James (Bath), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, capt), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (NG Dragons).

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Andrew Coombs (NG Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Liam Williams (Scarlets).

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