Warren Gatland backs ‘world-class’ Taulupe Faletau to shine as Wales captain

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Wales boss Warren Gatland has hailed Taulupe Faletau’s “world-class” quality as he prepares to captain his country for the first time.

Bath number eight Faletau will lead Wales in Sunday’s NatWest 6 Nations clash against Italy at the Principality Stadium, with regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones rested.

And Scarlets flanker James Davies makes his Test debut in a team showing 10 changes from the one beaten 37-27 by Ireland last time out.

Davies, 27, was an integral part of the Scarlets’ PRO12 title triumph last term, in addition to helping them reach this season’s European Champions Cup quarter-finals.

He also featured for the Great Britain Olympic silver medal-winning rugby sevens squad at Rio 2016 and is the younger brother of Wales and British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies.

Wing George North’s selection comes four days on from him missing Northampton’s Aviva Premiership game against Sale, after which interim Saints boss Alan Gaffney suggested the 25-year-old had not wanted to play for his club.

North had been released by Wales as it was a Six Nations fallow week, but he did not feature for Northampton amid reports he had an arrangement with former Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder that he would not play club rugby on rest weekends.

Gatland said: “It is a great opportunity for Taulupe.

“He is a world-class player, hugely experienced and this will be great for his development and we are looking forward to seeing those leadership qualities come through.

“We have made some changes, but we are bringing in a lot of quality and a lot of experience with the likes of Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, George North and Taulupe.

“Add into that James Davies, who gets his first cap, and Elliot Dee, who gets his first start – this is a great opportunity for them to play tournament rugby.

Taulupe Faletau will lead a much-chnaged Wales side this weekend
Taulupe Faletau will lead a much-chnaged Wales side this weekend (Joe Giddens/PA)

Faletau has recovered from injury to make a first appearance in this season’s tournament, and he takes charge of a team that also includes the likes of North, hooker Dee, centre Owen Watkin and fly-half Gareth Anscombe.

The five starting XV survivors from Dublin are Liam Williams, who moves from wing to full-back instead of Leigh Halfpenny, wing Steff Evans, centre Hadleigh Parkes, scrum-half Gareth Davies and lock Cory Hill.

Gatland has opted for a new-look back row of Davies, Justin Tipuric in the number six shirt, and Faletau.

But centre Scott Williams, fly-half Dan Biggar, flankers Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi, plus number eight Ross Moriarty, are among those not involved in the match-day 23.

Wales are effectively out of the title running following successive losses at Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium, but Gatlland has still made more changes than many might have expected.

The replacements’ bench, meanwhile, includes Wales’ entire first-choice front row of Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee, while there are also chances for highly rated Cardiff Blues forwards Seb Davies and Ellis Jenkins.

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