Wales have made five changes from the team that beat South Africa 27-13
Number eight Taulupe Faletau has failed to recover from a knee injury so Ross Moriarty starts
Dan Biggar will be partnered by Rhys Webb at half-back with Leigh Halfpenny starting at full-back
Wales have made five changes to the side that beat South Africa last November for their opening 2017 RBS 6 Nations game against Italy on Sunday (KO 15:00 local, live on ITV & S4C).
Rhys Webb, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Sam Warburton all come into the starting XV.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones leads the side in Rome, the city where he first wore the captain’s armband for his country back in 2009.
There is just one change in the backline from the side that beat the Springboks, with Webb returning from injury to start at scrum-half, partnering Dan Biggar at half-back. Scarlets duo Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies make up the midfield with
Speedster George North, who scored a hat-trick for Wales on his last outing in Rome, and Liam Williams occupy the wing positions, with Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.
Wales’ match-day squad features four players seeking their first taste of Six Nations action – prop Nicky Smith who starts at loose-head along with replacements Cory Hill, James King and Sam Davies.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 2, 2017
Smith is joined in the front-row by Scarlets pair Lee and Ken Owens, with their regional team-mate Ball packing down alongside captain Jones in second-row.
The back-row sees Ross Moriarty at No.8 with Justin Tipuric and Warburton at openside and blindside flanker respectively.
“I’m delighted to name an experienced team for the game against Italy and to welcome back five players who missed out on the opportunity against South Africa in the autumn,” said Wales head coach Rob Howley
“The Six Nations is a special tournament and we are looking forward to being highly competitive. We feel this is the best side selected to start the campaign, we want to get off to a good start and we feel experience will be vital in that.
“There has been a lot of energy and enthusiasm over the past two weeks and we are excited going into Sunday.
“We know we are going to Rome to face a hugely motivated and very competitive Italian side.”
On the bench Rob Evans, who missed the autumn series through injury, is included alongside fellow front row replacements, Scott Baldwin and Tomas Francis. Hill and King complete the forward contingent with Gareth Davies, Sam Davies and Jamie Roberts the back-line cover.
WALES TEAM TO PLAY ITALY:
Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon) (66 Caps)
George North (Northampton Saints) (65 Caps)
Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (59 Caps)
Scott Williams (Scarlets) (41 Caps)
Liam Williams (Scarlets) (38 Caps)
Dan Biggar (Ospreys) (51 Caps)
Rhys Webb (Ospreys) (23 Caps)
Nicky Smith (Ospreys) (7 Caps)
Ken Owens (Scarlets) (45 Caps)
Samson Lee (Scarlets) (29 Caps)
Jake Ball (Scarlets) (21 Caps)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys)(105 Caps) (CAPTAIN)
Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues) (69 Caps)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (46 Caps)
Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby) (12 Caps)
Scott Baldwin (Ospreys) (28 Caps)
Rob Evans (Scarlets) (12 Caps)
Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (17 Caps)
Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons) (3 Caps)
James King (Ospreys) (10 Caps)
Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (21 Caps)
Sam Davies (Ospreys) (3 Caps)
Jamie Roberts (Harlequins) (86 Caps)