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Gatland springs surprise and names Wales team early

The 6 Nations kicks off with the visit of England to Cardiff on Friday night.

Gatland and skipper Sam Warburton.
Gatland and skipper Sam Warburton.
Image: Andrew Matthews

WALES HEAD COACH Warren Gatland sprang a surprise today by naming his team to face England in Friday’s opening Six Nations match in Cardiff 48 hours ahead of schedule.

There are two changes to the team that beat South Africa 12-6 in November, with British and Irish Lions pair George North and Richard Hibbard coming into the side at wing and hooker.

Captain Sam Warburton, meanwhile, will win his 50th cap.

“We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation,” Gatland said in a press release from the Welsh Rugby Union.

“It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa, but it’s good to have these and other tough selection decisions and it’s a strong position to be in.

“We are excited about kicking the tournament off on Friday against a strong England side in front of a packed Millennium Stadium.”

Liam Williams and Scott Baldwin are the two players to make way from the South Africa win, with both men named among the replacements. Hibbard joins Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee in the front row, with Jake Ball and Alun Wyn Jones at lock and Warburton partnering Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau in the back row.

Ospreys pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar continue at half-back, with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in midfield.

North is the only new face in the back line and takes his place alongside Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny.

Wales lost 29-18 to England at Twickenham in last year’s championship, but claimed a title-clinching 30-3 victory when the teams last met at the Millennium Stadium in 2013.

England are due to announce their team for the game on Wednesday.

Wales team (15-1) Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate; Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball; Samson Lee, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Paul James, Aaron Jarvis, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams

 - © AFP, 2015

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