Webb starts for Wales

Date published: February 2 2017

Wales head coach Rob Howley has recalled Rhys Webb at scrum-half for their Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Howley has made five changes to the side that beat South Africa last November as Webb, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Sam Warburton all come into the starting XV.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones leads the team in Rome, the city where he first wore the captain's armband for his country back in 2009.

There is just one change in the backline from the side that beat the Springboks, with Webb returning from injury to start at scrum-half, partnering Dan Biggar at half-back. Scarlets duo Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies make up the midfield with George North, who scored a hat-trick for Wales on his last outing in Rome, and Liam Williams occupy the wing positions, with Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.

Wales' matchday squad features four players seeking their first taste of Six Nations action – prop Nicky Smith who starts at loosehead along with replacements Cory Hill, James King and Sam Davies.

Smith is joined in the front-row by Scarlets pair Lee and Ken Owens, with their regional team-mate Ball packing down alongside captain Jones in second-row.

The back-row sees Ross Moriarty at number eight with Justin Tipuric and Warburton at openside and blindside flanker respectively.

"I'm delighted to name an experienced team for the game against Italy and to welcome back five players who missed out on the opportunity against South Africa in the autumn," said Wales head coach Howley.

"The Six Nations is a special tournament and we are looking forward to being highly competitive. We feel this is the best side selected to start the campaign, we want to get off to a good start and we feel experience will be vital in that.

"There has been a lot of energy and enthusiasm over the past two weeks and we are excited going into Sunday.

"We know we are going to Rome to face a hugely motivated and very competitive Italian side."

On the bench Rob Evans, who missed the autumn series through injury, is included alongside fellow front row replacements, Scott Baldwin and Tomas Francis. Hill and King complete the forward contingent with Gareth Davies, Sam Davies and Jamie Roberts the back-line cover.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

Date: Sunday, February 5
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Time: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)


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