Wales v Ireland: Captain Alun Wyn Jones fit for Six Nations opener

Alun Wyn Jones
Alun Wyn Jones made his Wales debut on tour against Argentina in 2006
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Sunday, 7 February Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC iPlayer & Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sport website and app, S4C. Highlights, Scrum V, BBC Two Wales from 19:00 GMT on Sunday

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has been passed fit to lead his side into the Six Nations opener against Ireland.

Flanker Dan Lydiate plays his first international for more than two years and second-row Adam Beard also returns.

Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit will make his tournament debut with Hallam Amos also recalled.

George North will continue in the centre and win his 99th Wales cap with fellow British and Irish Lion Jonathan Davies missing.

Cardiff Blues scrum-half Tomos Williams starts ahead of Gareth Davies after missing the autumn campaign through injury and partners Dan Biggar. Josh Navidi is on the bench after recovering from concussion.

World record cap holder Jones damaged his knee against Italy on 5 December in the Autumn Nations Cup and was initially expected to miss the start of the Six Nations.

The 35-year-old has recovered and will pack down alongside fellow Ospreys lock Beard, who was left out of the autumn squad.

Scarlets captain Ken Owens also returns at hooker after missing the autumn campaign because of a shoulder injury.

Wayne Pivac on Josh Adams suspension

Lydiate, 33, will play his 65th Wales test and make his first international appearance since November 2018 by linking up with Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau in the back-row.

“He’s a form player in club rugby. He’s come into the camp and trained well and deserves a start in our opinion,” said Pivac.

“He’ll bring a lot of experience and he’s a hard-nosed player. He’s what we need in round one.

“We look at what he’s doing in games and we have a lot of stats and footage that we use.

“We talk to people close to the action at the Ospreys, people whose opinion we cherish.

“Everyone has their own opinions from afar, but we also look at what he’s doing in training as well. You’ll find anyone in this camp would agree he’s done very well there and that he’s worth his opportunity.”

Pivac was forced into a backline selection change after wing Josh Adams was suspended for the first two matches because of a Covid-19 breach.

North started at 13 in the Autumn Nations Cup win against Italy where he played alongside Jonathan Davies, who was a late starting replacement for calf injury victim Johnny Williams.

Davies is himself injured now with an ankle problem so North and Williams form the partnership.

“We’re confident George can do a job at 13 and he has run there for the last two weeks,” said Pivac.

“That’s been our plan with Jonathan’s injury, which he picked up in club rugby before coming into the camp.

“George did well there in the Italian game, he’s comfortable at 13 and we’re comfortable with him there.

“We missed Johnny Williams, who was originally selected to pair up with George in that Italy game. They’d trained together that week for that match, so it’s not uncommon for the two of them.

“The call was always going to be to see how Jonathan Davies was playing as much as George because he hasn’t had a good run of games due to injury and he’s picked up another one now.

“It was about how Jon came into the camp, the form he brought and how he went in the first two weeks of training.

“We would have made a decision around that, but with his injury it was a quick choice for us to put George at 13 based on what happened in the Italian week.

“It’s also about form and confidence George is bringing in. George is part of those discussions when we look to change a player from one position to another.”

With Liam Williams also banned, 20-year-old Rees-Zammit will make his Six Nations debut after winning his first cap against France in a friendly in October 2020 and starting against England, Georgia and Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup.

Amos, 26, last played for Wales in the World Cup bronze medal match defeat by New Zealand in November 2019.

“It was a straight swap, we’d intended on starting Josh on the wing, but it’s been well-publicised earlier in the week that won’t be happening,” said Pivac.

“Rather than push George back to the wing, we just wanted to make one change and that was Hallam coming in.

“He’s trained on the wing from the start of coming into camp with Jon being out, so Louis was always starting on one wing with George in the centre.

“I see this as more of an opportunity for Hallam. He’s been called back into the squad and was happy with that, then the team was named (internally) without him being in it. Within 24 hours of that, he’s starting.”

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Johnny Williams, Hallam Amos; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins.

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