Wales coach Gatland opts for experience in Six Nations opener v Ireland

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FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union – Tour match – Lions v British and Irish Lions – Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa – July 3, 2021 British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland before the match REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

(Reuters) – Wales coach Warren Gatland has included lock Alun Wyn Jones in his starting XV to face Ireland in their Six Nations opener at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, having opted for experience in his first selection since returning to the role.

Jones is the most capped international in rugby history with 155 appearances in tests, and joins centre George North (109 caps), flyhalf Dan Biggar (103), fullback Leigh Halfpenny (97) and number eight Taulupe Faletau (95) in a group that largely featured under Gatland in his first spell in charge.

Eleven of the 15 starters have 40 or more caps, including the new captain, hooker Ken Owens, as Gatland mostly goes for know-how rather than exposing new players ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France later this year.

There are also some fresher faces however. Joe Hawkins will add to his single cap as he starts alongside North in the midfield, while Rio Dyer gets a run on the wing in a back three that also includes Halfpenny and Josh Adams.

“We’ve picked Joe at 12. He’s a lovely footballer with some great skills,” Gatland said in a Welsh Rugby media release.

“I thought for his first cap (against Australia last year) he was outstanding so we’ve given him another opportunity. There’s some real competition in the midfield at the moment, so I’m really excited about that.

“Ireland are the number one team in the world, so they’re going to be coming here with a lot of confidence. You don’t become the number one team in the world without having some pretty consistent performances.”

Owens will be flanked by props Gareth Thomas and Tomas Francis in the front row of the scrum, while Jones starts alongside lock partner Adam Beard.

Faletau will be behind loose-forwards Justin Tipuric and Jac Morgan at the back of the scrum.

Wales team:

15. Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 97 caps)

14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 43 caps)

13. George North (Ospreys – 109 caps)

12. Joe Hawkins (Ospreys – 1 cap)

11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 3 caps)

10. Dan Biggar (Toulon – 103 caps)

9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 40 caps)

1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 17 caps)

2. Ken Owens (Scarlets – 86 caps) captain

3. Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 67 caps)

4. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 41 caps)

5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 155 caps)

6. Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 6 caps)

7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 89 caps)

8. Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 95 caps)

Replacements

16. Scott Baldwin (Ospreys – 34 caps)

17. Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby – 17 caps)

18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 45 caps)

19. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 1 cap)

20. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 4 caps)

21. Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 36 caps)

22. Owen Williams (Ospreys – 3 caps)

23. Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys – 55 caps)

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