Wales: Jenkins dropped to reserves, North at 13
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales will start George North and Liam Williams out of their usual backline positions and with British Lions prop Gethin Jenkins in the reserves against Australia at Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Jenkins has been the No. 1 loosehead for a decade, racking up 107 caps, but gave way to English-based Paul James. At least Jenkins could still play, unlike another veteran, tighthead prop Adam Jones, who didn’t make the squad.
North, normally on the left wing, was picked on Tuesday to wear 13 because of a shoulder injury to Jonathan Davies and hamstring injury for Scott Williams. North’s only start alongside Jamie Roberts in midfield proved successful, in a 27-6 home win over France in the Six Nations in February, when North scored the first try.
“We’ve always been comfortable with moving George to the center,” Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said. “George is best on the wing but we’re more than comfortable with him in the center.
“The one thing about the modern game is the flexibility in players playing in different positions. You see that in Australia, with Adam Ashley-Cooper. He is brilliant at 13 and he’s brilliant on the wing.
“George will be stressed a bit defensively, but having another Lion alongside him will give him that confidence.”
Moving North also allowed coach Warren Gatland to accommodate his fullbacks; placing the in-form Liam Williams on the left wing, and retaining Leigh Halfpenny, who has had limited game time at Toulon after shoulder and groin problems.
Scrumhalf Rhys Webb was chosen ahead of another out-of-form Lion, Mike Phillips, to keep intact his Ospreys halves combination with flyhalf Dan Biggar.
“When you’ve got someone of world-class talent (Phillips) to come off the bench, it will be a key part of the game,” Howley said.
Flanker Dan Lydiate was cut this week by his French club Racing Metro after only two starts, but despite not playing in a month, he was picked over Justin Tipuric, who has been recovering from shoulder surgery in the offseason and a head injury last month.
The other point of contention was a locking partner for Alun Wyn Jones. Gatland did a deal with Racing Metro for Luke Charteris to miss the Australia match but be available for the South Africa game on Nov. 29, outside the international window. Jake Ball was given the nod over Bradley Davies, who was in the reserves.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Samson Lee, Richard Hibbard, Paul James. Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Gethin Jenkins, Rhodri Jones, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, Rhys Priestland, Cory Allen.