Wales head coach Warren Gatland has named his team to face Ireland at a sold out Principality Stadium in the opening round of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday (February 4) (KO 2.15pm live on BBC and S4C).
Joe Hawkins, who won his first senior cap against Australia in the autumn, makes his Six Nations debut at inside centre. He partners Wales’ most-capped men’s international back George North in the midfield.
Props Gareth Thomas and Tomas Francis join captain Ken Owens in the Wales front row. Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Beard complete the tight five.
The back row comprises Jac Morgan at blind-side flanker, Justin Tipuric at open-side flanker and Taulupe Faletau at No. 8.
Dan Biggar, who missed the Autumn Nations Series through injury, returns to the Wales XV at fly half. Tomos Williams is at scrum half.
Full back Leigh Halfpenny is in line to make his first start for Wales since the summer of 2021 having featured as a replacement against Georgia in November. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.
Owen Williams (fly-half) and Scott Baldwin (hooker) whose last appearances in a Wales jersey came in 2017 are named in the match day 23. Williams, along with fellow replacements Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell, would join Hawkins in making their Six Nations debut if appearing from the bench.
Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the remaining forward cover. Alex Cuthbert and Rhys Webb, who last featured for Wales in the autumn of 2020, are the other replacement backs.
Gatland said: “We’ve picked Joe at 12. He’s a lovely footballer with some great skills. I thought for his first cap he was outstanding so we’ve given him another opportunity. There’s some real competition in the midfield at the moment, so I’m really excited about that.
“There’s a mixture in the team of some experience, 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’re 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 20mins.
“We’ve only had a couple of weeks together but I’m confident that the guys will go out and give a good account of themselves. They’re pretty excited about playing this first game at home.”
Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland:
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 97 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 43 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 109 caps)
12. Joe Hawkins (Ospreys – 1 cap)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 3 caps)
10. Dan Biggar (Toulon – 103 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 40 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 17 caps)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets – 86 caps) captain
3. Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 67 caps)
4. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 41 caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 155 caps)
6. Jac Morgan (Ospreys – 6 caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 89 caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 95 caps)
16. Scott Baldwin (Ospreys – 34 caps)
17. Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby – 17 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 45 caps)
19. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 1 cap)
20. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 4 caps)
21. Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 36 caps)
22. Owen Williams (Ospreys – 3 caps)
23. Alex Cuthbert (Ospreys – 55 caps)