Wednesday 17 January 2018

Warren Gatland springs surprise by naming Welsh team early

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland

Wales boss Warren Gatland has sprung the first surprise of this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship - by naming his team to face England 48 hours early.

Gatland has revealed his hand for Friday night's Millennium Stadium showdown two days ahead of schedule.

And it contains no surprises as Wales prepare for a World Cup dress rehearsal against opponents they crushed by a record 30-3 scoreline the last time England visited Cardiff two years ago.

The team, which was announced on the Welsh Rugby Union's official Twitter feed, shows just two changes from the side that toppled South Africa in November, with wing George North and hooker Richard Hibbard both returning to action.

Wales captain Sam Warburton, meanwhile, will win his 50th cap.

North missed the Springboks clash due to concussion, while Gloucester forward Hibbard was unavailable because that game fell outside the World Rugby's autumn Test window and he had to be released back to his club.

In-form Scarlets back Liam Williams had been tipped to retain one of the wing slots but he has to settle for a place on the bench, while Hibbard takes over from Scott Baldwin, who is also on replacement duty.

There are 11 starting line-up survivors from two years ago when Wales put England to the sword, with the likes of Warburton, North, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert - a two-try star of that game - all back for more.

Reflecting on his early team announcement, head coach Gatland said: "We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation.

"It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa.

"But it is 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."

While England have been racked by injury worries, and there remains considerable debate about what midfield selection head coach Stuart Lancaster will select, Wales have a settled look about them.

Gatland's squad is injury-free by comparison, and there can be little doubt that a Monday morning team announcement confirms a rude state of health.

Lancaster is due to name his team on Wednesday morning.

Wales team to play England in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium on Friday.

Press Association

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