Wales spring surprise at centre for Ireland clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named his team to face Ireland at a sold-out Millennium Stadium in the opening round of the 2023 Six Nations on Saturday.
Joe Hawkins, who won his first senior cap against Australia last year, makes his Six Nations debut at inside centre. He partners Wales’ most-capped men’s international back George North in the midfield.
Props Gareth Thomas and Tomas Francis join captain Ken Owens in the Wales front row. Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Beard complete the tight five.
The back row comprises Jac Morgan at the blind-side flank, Justin Tipuric at the open-side flank and Taulupe Faletau at No.8.
Dan Biggar, who missed the Nations Series through injury, returns to the Wales XV at flyhalf. Tomos Williams is at scrumhalf.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny is in line to make his first start for Wales since 2021 having featured as a replacement against Georgia in November. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.
Owen Williams (flyhalf) and Scott Baldwin (hooker) whose last appearances in a Wales jersey came in 2017 are named in the match day 23. Williams, along with fellow replacements Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell, would join Hawkins in making their Six Nations debut if appearing from the bench.
Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the remaining forward cover. Alex Cuthbert and Rhys Webb, who last featured for Wales in the autumn of 2020, are the other replacement backs.
Gatland said: “We’ve picked Joe at 12. He’s a lovely footballer with some great skills. I thought for his first cap he was outstanding so we’ve given him another opportunity. There’s some real competition in the midfield at the moment, so I’m really excited about that.
“There’s a mixture in the team of some experience, some younger players. We were conscious as well picking the bench. We think we’ve got a bench that can come on and have an impact.
“Ireland is the number one team in the world, so they’re going to be coming here with a lot of confidence. You don’t become the number-one team in the world without having some pretty consistent performances. We know how good they are and we’re expecting a really tough contest. It’s important for us that we start well, but we need to be in the game at the last 20mins.
“We’ve only had a couple of weeks together but I’m confident that the guys will go out and give a good account of themselves. They’re pretty excited about playing this first game at home.”
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos William, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Jac Morgan, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Alex Cuthbert.
Date: Saturday, February 4
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.15 GMT)
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia) & Luke Pearce (England )
TMO: Tom Foley (England)