Leigh Halfpenny to start for Wales in Six Nations opener with Ireland

Halfpenny will line-up against Ireland on Saturday.
Leigh Halfpenny to start for Wales in Six Nations opener with Ireland

By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny will make his first Test match start for 19 months in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Halfpenny, who has won 97 caps, last featured in the starting line-up when Wales beat Canada during their 2021 summer internationals.

He is joined in the back-three by Josh Adams and Rio Dyer, while Wales head coach Warren Gatland has selected six Ospreys forwards, plus centre Joe Hawkins, with Saracens’ Nick Tompkins missing out.

The Principality Stadium encounter kicks off Gatland’s second stint as Wales boss, with his previous reign between 2008 and 2019 yielding four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals.

Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb is set for a first Wales appearance since November 2020 after being named on the replacements’ bench, where there are also roles for Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins, Webb’s regional team half-back partner Owen Williams and hooker Scott Baldwin.

Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell is also among the substitutes, with Gatland selecting a starting back-row of Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

Gatland said: “We’ve picked Joe (Hawkins) at 12. He is a lovely footballer with some great skills. I thought for his first cap (against Australia in November) he was outstanding, so we have given him another opportunity.

Leigh Halfpenny suffered an injury in his last start against Canada in 2021
Leigh Halfpenny suffered an injury in his last start against Canada in 2021 (David Davies/PA)

“There is some real competition in the midfield at the moment, so I am really excited about that. There is a mixture in the team of some experience and some younger players. We were conscious as well picking the bench. We think we’ve got a bench that can come on and have an impact.

“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.

“We know how good they are and we are expecting a really tough contest. It’s important for us that we start well, but we need to be in the game at the last 20 minutes.

Warren Gatland is back in charge of Wales
Warren Gatland is back in charge of Wales (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve only had a couple of weeks together, but I am confident that the guys will go out and give a good account of themselves.”

Ireland will arrive in Cardiff as the world-ranked number-one team following a memorable year when they beat New Zealand twice, South Africa and Australia.

But they have lost their last four Six Nations games in the Welsh capital since defeating Wales 10 years ago.

Wales team: L Halfpenny (Scarlets); J Adams (Cardiff), G North (Ospreys), J Hawkins (Ospreys), R Dyer (Dragons); D Biggar (Toulon), T Williams (Cardiff); G Thomas (Ospreys), K Owens (Scarlets, capt), T Francis (Ospreys), A Beard (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), J Morgan (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Cardiff).

Replacements: S Baldwin (Ospreys), R Carre (Cardiff), D Lewis (Cardiff), D Jenkins (Exeter), T Reffell (Leicester), R Webb (Ospreys), O Williams (Ospreys), A Cuthbert (Ospreys).

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