Six Nations: Rhys Webb one of six changes to Wales team for Italy clash
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made six changes to his XV that will face Italy in a crucial Six Nations clash at the Stadio Olimpico.
Rhys Webb has been brought in at scrum-half ahead of a benched Tomos Williams, while Owen Williams continues in the number 10 jersey for the Rome match.
Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are picked on the wings with Liam Williams returning at full-back, with Louis Rees-Zammit in jersey 23 and Leigh Halfpenny injured.
Midfield is unchanged
Mason Grady, who won his first senior international cap against England at the Principality Stadium in Round Three, and Joe Hawkins continue in Wales’ midfield.
Up front, Wyn Jones returns at loosehead prop to join captain Ken Owens (hooker) and Tomas Francis (tighthead prop) in the front-row for Saturday’s fixture.
Exeter Chiefs’ Dafydd Jenkins makes his second start for Wales this week, partnering Adam Beard in the second-row, with Alun Wyn Jones left out of the 23.
The Wales forward pack is completed with a back-row of Jac Morgan at blindside flanker, Justin Tipuric at openside and Taulupe Faletau as the number eight.
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 matchday 23 by head coach Gatland.
Joining Williams and Rees-Zammit as the backline options off the bench will be George North, with no specialist fly-half in reserve should injury hit at 10.
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 to 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 (c), 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 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
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