Rhys Webb gets the nod for Italy clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Scrumhalf Rhys Webb will make his first start for Wales in more than two years when they face Italy in the Six Nations this Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The 34-year-old Webb last played for Wales against England in November 2020 and if he impresses in this campaign he could feature in a first World Cup.
Head coach Warren Gatland announced his Wales side for the fourth round of the Six Nations and opted for Rio Dyer and Josh Adams on the wings with Liam Williams returning at full back.
Mason Grady, who won his first senior international cap against England at Principality Stadium in round three, and Joe Hawkins continue in the Wales midfield.
Wyn Jones returns at loose-head prop to join captain Ken Owens (hooker) and Tomas Francis (tight-head prop) in the front row.
Dafydd Jenkins makes his second start for Wales, partnering Adam Beard in the second row.
The Wales pack is completed with a back row of Jac Morgan (blind-side flanker), Justin Tipuric (open-side flanker) and Taulupe Faletau (No. 8) .
Among the Wales replacements Scott Baldwin, Gareth Thomas and Dillon Lewis provide the front row cover.
Rhys Davies, who made his senior Wales debut against Scotland at Murrayfield in round two of the Championship, and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards selected in the match day 23.
The Wales replacement backs are Tomos Williams, George North and Louis Rees-Zammit.
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Warren Gatland on the team for the Italy clash👇 #WelshRugby | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/XMwImwAgxC
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Gatland said: “We feel that having watched Italy and how they’ll tend to play from everywhere, including their own 22, getting guys on the ball is going to be pretty important.
“Rhys Webb gets an opportunity at nine having been training well. He’s been great in the squad, he brings that experience and a voice to that nine position.
“Liam Williams comes in at full back. We did discuss whether we put Louis Rees-Zammit at full back and how that would have looked. But he still hasn’t played a lot of rugby in terms of coming back from a relatively long injury with his ankle and we just felt with the way the game’s going to be and the pace of the game, that him coming off the bench and the impact he can have could be pretty important.
“We’ve been disappointed with the results so far and for me it’s hard to take as it’s the first time I’ve lost three games in the Six Nations with Wales. We’ve had a lot of things going on off the field as well but there are no excuses.
“The message to the players has been that we have to be smart in terms of the way we play but we’ve also got to be brave and make sure that when the opportunities are on we shift the ball. We have to keep scanning and looking at options and if there’s a chance to move the ball then be brave and do that.”
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric,6 Jac Morgan, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin,17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Rhys Davies,
20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 George North, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit
Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.15 (14.15 UK time & GMT)
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)