Warburton returns to the Welsh XV

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Sam Warburton returns to lead Wales’ assault on the RBS 6 Nations Championship title against France at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (2.45pm) in the only change to the side which beat Italy last weekend to keep dreams of a 2012 clean sweep alive.

Unbeaten Wales have also been able to name the same back line for the fifth match running, with the Blues and the Scarlets providing three backs each and France-based Mike Phillips (Bayonne) the only player in the starting line-up currently plying his trade outside Welsh rugby.

Up front Warburton’s return from a knee problem - in place of Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric, who misses out altogether - means the Blues’ contribution to the starting XV totals five players, with prop Gethin Jenkins keeping his place but asked to return the captaincy to his regional team-mate.

The Ospreys provide both locks in Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans - the latter featuring in every match alongside ever present scrum cornerstone Adam Jones - bringing their representation to three and the Dragons provide two more players, in Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau, with Faletau also having played every game of the Championship so far.

Matthew Rees keeps his place at hooker and is set to win his 50th cap for his country, taking the Scarlets’ contribution on Saturday up to a quartet of starters.

Consistency has been a watchword for Warren Gatland and his coaching team this campaign with a total of 10 players having started every match in the tournament - the backline of Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland and Mike Phillips join, Evans, Faletau and prop Jones in the achievement.

Close comparisons can still be made to Wales’ Rugby World Cup side and just three players – Shane Williams (retired), Huw Bennett (injured) and Luke Charteris (on the replacements bench this weekend) – are absent from the side which started against France in the RWC semi-final at Eden Park last Autumn, but the players and coaches have their mind sets rooted firmly in Cardiff and the present rather than New Zealand and the past.

“We are obviously aware of what this game means to the fans, 60,000 of them came to the Millennium Stadium during the Rugby World Cup to watch us face France in the semi-final on the television screens and that tells you everything about how dedicated they are,” said Wales head coach Gatland.

“But this weekend we play in front of a sell-out 74,500 crowd with a chance to make history in Cardiff, they will be there to watch us in the flesh, they can make a real and positive contribution to the atmosphere and, like us, will be thinking of nothing other than the here and now.

“In camp all we can and must do is make preparations as normal, the magnitude of the game is not lost on us but it is irrelevant to how we prepare - we have our captain back and, although Justin Tipuric is unlucky after playing well in his place last week, Sam’s presence is a welcome boost to everyone.”

On the bench Blues scrum-half Lloyd Williams has returned from the thigh injury which kept him out last weekend to replace Ospreys half back Rhys Webb who made his debut in the win over the Azzurri on Saturday.

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (C), Toby Faletau

REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens, Paul James, Luke Charteris, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams