North, Hibbard back for full-strength Wales
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales will be at full strength for Friday’s Six Nations opener against England after recalling hooker Richard Hibbard and winger George North to the starting team.
The British and Irish Lions players are the only changes to the side that started the 12-6 win over South Africa in November, which ended Wales’ 22-match losing run against the southern hemisphere’s big three.
North, who replaces Liam Williams, is one of the stars of Welsh rugby, but has been warned by Gatland that he needs a big game at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to keep his place in the side.
“We don’t think he has played that well in the Welsh jersey in the last few games,” Gatland said. “So there is a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform.
“But one of the things he has done for Wales is that he has scored tries and he continues to do that for his club as well. He does have that X-factor. We are looking for a big performance from him on Friday night.”
Hibbard comes in for Scott Baldwin in a team selected two days ahead of schedule by Gatland, who had an injury-free squad to choose from.
“It wasn’t the hardest team in the world to pick,” Gatland said. “There are no injuries and everyone has trained this morning, which is good.
“We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation.”
Sam Warburton is captain for his 50th international appearance.
Wales thrashed England 30-3 in their last meeting at Millennium Stadium — a Six Nations title decider in 2013.
England has a slew of injury doubts for the trip to Cardiff for what is one of the biggest rivalries in rugby.
Prop David Wilson was the latest player to be ruled out of the game, with forwards coach Graham Rowntree saying the front-row forward hasn’t recovered from a neck problem. Dan Cole is set to replace Wilson.
Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Samson Lee, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Paul James, Aaron Jarvis, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams.