/ Six Nations 2016

Warren Gatland names Wales team for Ireland showdown

Updated: Wednesday, 03 Feb 2016 16:37 | Comments

Gareth Anscombe will start at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday
Gareth Anscombe will start at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday

Cardiff Blues wing Tom James will make his first Wales appearance for more than five years in Sunday's Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Head coach Warren Gatland has also handed starts to Blues full-back Gareth Anscombe, Scarlets prop Rob Evans and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric.

Wales captain Sam Warburton moves from openside to blindside flanker for the Aviva Stadium clash, with a powerful bench featuring British and Irish Lions trio Alex Cuthbert, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate.

Centre Jonathan Davies, who missed the World Cup last autumn because of a knee ligament injury, is reunited in midfield with Jamie Roberts.

There is no place in the match-day 23 for full-back Liam Williams, who began his comeback from a foot injury by playing 60 minutes for the Scarlets last Saturday, having been sidelined since the World Cup.

Lydiate, meanwhile, has been out for just over a month with a shoulder/neck problem, but Tipuric's outstanding form for the Ospreys probably demanded inclusion anyway, while Warburton is no stranger to the blindside role.

And 28-year-old James' impressive consistency in Blues colours this season means he features for his country for the first time since November 2010, when Wales lost 37-25 to New Zealand in Cardiff.

Gatland said: "We have been impressed with Tom James' form for Cardiff Blues, and we are excited by the mix of the back row which has played well together before.

"It's great to see Jonathan back and alongside Jamie, which makes a pretty experienced midfield. Gareth (Anscombe) at full-back also gives us the option of having two first receivers.

"We are excited by the make-up of the squad, it's very experienced, along with one eye looking to the future.

"Rob (Evans) gets a start at loosehead. He has played well for us before and deserves a chance looking ahead to the next few years.

And we have a very experienced bench, with a lot of caps there, and hopefully they will come on and make an impact.

"It's going to be a physical game. Two years ago, they [Ireland] strangled us out of the match and played well, and we have to rise to that challenge on Sunday."

Gatland's line-up shows four changes from Wales' last game - the World Cup quarter-final defeat against South Africa at Twickenham - with James replacing Cuthbert, Davies in for Tyler Morgan, Evans taking over from Jenkins and Tipuric replacing Lydiate, plus a positional switch with Warburton wearing the number six shirt.

Wasps lock Bradley Davies, meanwhile, will win his 50th cap if he appears off the bench.

WALES: G Anscombe (Cardiff Blues); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Clermont Auvergne), J Roberts (Harlequins), T James (Cardiff Blues); D Biggar (Ospreys), G Davies (Scarlets); R Evans (Scarlets), S Baldwin (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), L Charteris (Racing 92), A-W Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), T Francis (Exeter), B Davies (Wasps), D Lydiate (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Priestland (Bath), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues).

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