Warren Gatland makes NINE changes for Wales’ crunch clash with England after strike action was averted at the 11th hour as Dan Biggar is dropped to the bench and Liam Williams and George North are left out ENTIRELY
- Louis Rees-Zammit returns to the side for his first Six Nations outing this year
- Wales were hammered 35-7 by Scotland last time out for their second defeat
- Anthony Watson will make first England start in almost two years against Wales
Mason Grady will make his Wales debut in Saturday’s crunch Six Nations clash with England in Cardiff after the game was saved at the 11th hour due to the home side averting strike action.
Warren Gatland’s Welsh players had threatened to strike for the Principality Stadium clash amid anger over contractual issues, but a resolution was reached with their Welsh rugby bosses after crisis talks were held on Wednesday. It means the game will go ahead as planned.
Wales head coach Gatland has confirmed his team for and the selection is fascinating, with 20-year-old Cardiff rookie Grady set for a Test bow in the centre.
Grady has played just 20 senior games for Cardiff, 14 of which have come this season.
Wales big guns Liam Williams and George North miss out on the 23 entirely, as does promising young back-row Jac Morgan. Fly-half Dan Biggar is dropped to the bench.
Warren Gatland makes nine changes to the side that lost 35-7 to Scotland last time out
Mason Grady will make his first start for the side at centre against England on Saturday
There is also no place in the matchday squad for Rhys Webb but Gloucester flyer Louis Rees-Zammit is back from an ankle injury for his first Six Nations game this year.
Gatland has made nine changes from Wales’ defeat by Scotland last time out.
‘There is some experience coming back into the side with Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones and also Leigh Halfpenny,’ Gatland said.
‘And then we’re mixing that with giving players an opportunity. Owen Williams coming in at 10 – we need to find out about that position so Owen gets a chance.
‘We’ve given Mason Grady a first cap. He’s a big lad, he’s got some really lovely rugby skills and offloading ability. He’s quick, so he’s the kind of centre I think is going to have it all going forward.
‘He’s got a good rugby head on him. He’s still pretty inexperienced so the big message to him has been “What’s the biggest thing you need to work on?”
George North – who has 111 Wales caps – has been left out of the matchday 23 entirely
Dan Biggar will start on the bench against England in Saturday’s crunch clash having managed just two points against Scotland
WALES SIDE TO FACE ENGLAND
Backs: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Josh Adams; Owen Williams; Tomos Williams
Forwards: Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (capt), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Christ Tshiunza, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Nick Tompkins
‘He said “Keep talking and keep communicating” so that’s been the focus for him and I’ve been really happy with him in training.
‘The message to the players has been let’s draw a line in the sand in terms of what’s been going on and focus completely on the rugby. We know the history of Wales and England and what that means to everyone in Wales, so we’ve got to go out there and give a good performance.’
Wales had a shocking start to the 2023 Six Nations and suffered hammerings by both Ireland and Scotland before the build-up to the England match was totally overshadowed by the strike threat.
Now, after the players and their employers came to a compromise on a series of contractual issues, Wales must somehow try to focus on their match with England.
Gatland has again opted for experience in the pack, with Jones, Tipuric and Faletau recalled. All three had been dropped for the Scotland defeat.
Halfpenny is also fit again after a back problem. He starts at full-back in place of Williams.
Louis Rees-Zammit and Leigh Halfpenny both come back into the starting side after injury
Joe Hawkins continues in the No 12 jersey and he forms a youthful centre partnership with Grady.
The pair played together at Under-20 level, but facing Steve Borthwick’s England will be the biggest challenge of their short careers to date.
Gatland added: ‘For both teams this is a massive game because if we win on Saturday we can get things on track a little bit more.
‘For England it’s a huge game because if you look at their final two games that’s a challenge too, so it’s a huge moment in this competition.’
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