Wales to stick with same starting XV meaning no place for Warburton
WALES interim head coach Rob Howley is to reward the players who ended a run of eight straight defeats against France in Paris by naming the same starting XV for the RBS Six Nations fixture against Italy in Rome on Saturday week, meaning there will be no place for regular skipper Sam Warburton.
Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton missed the 16-6 triumph in Paris after suffering a shoulder injury in the previous weekend's defeat at home to Ireland.
Ospreys flanker Ryan Jones took over the captaincy in Paris with Justin Tipuric filling Warburton's number seven spot, and the performances of the duo mean Warburton will not come back into the starting line-up even if he is fully recovered from his 'stinger' injury.
Howley said: "I have told the players the same XV will start in Italy. I think it is pretty important from a coach's perspective that we reward the players who have gone out on the field.
"I thought Ryan Jones was outstanding in terms of his leadership and it is a just reward that he captains the side against Italy."
Warburton, who has struggled to recapture the form that made him such a star of the 2011 World Cup and Wales' 2012 Grand Slam success, could yet be named on the bench and he is expected to be available for selection against the Italians.
The idea of Wales fielding a side not including a fit Warburton would have seemed barely credible not so long ago, such has been the excellence with which the 24-year-old led his country.
But Saturday's gutsy effort at the Stade de France made Howley's decision to field the same starting XV, injury permitting, relatively straightforward, despite Warburton making good progress in his recovery.
He said: "Sam is better, he is still feeling the stinger to some extent but I wanted clarity.
"In terms of preparation, the team comes first. What I don't want is to wait on medical opinions, and the way the team went on the weekend they deserve to start again.
"It is a reward for the performance. We have talked about the determination, the attitude and resilience, and that is what you reward a side for when they come up with a win in France, which is not easy to get on any occasion."
Howley has also called lock Alun Wyn Jones into his squad.
The 27-year-old returned to action as a substitute for the Ospreys in their RaboDirect PRO12 win at Ulster on Friday, having been sidelined since suffering a shoulder injury in Wales' autumn defeat to Argentina.