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Gatland makes big changes for England game

  • Biggar benched
  • Jac Morgan, Liam Williams, George North, and Rio Dyer dropped
  • First cap for Mason Grady as Rees-Zammit and Halfpenny return

WALES coach Warren Gatland has wielded the axe on the misfiring national team for this Saturday’s Six Nations match against England.

Leigh Halfpenny and Louis Rees-Zammit are called up to full-back and wing in a dramatically changed backline.

They replace Liam Williams and Rio Dyer, who are dropped from the matchday squad.

Another casualty is George North, who also misses out on matchday selection. He is replaced by the uncapped Mason Grady, who’s recently been in stellar form for Cardiff.

Grady will partner Joe Hawkins in midfield, but former Welsh skipper Dan Biggar is benched and replaced by Ospreys out-half Owen Williams. Tomos Williams remains as first-choice scrum half. However, Rhys Webb must wonder what he did wrong after a decent performance from the bench. Webb’s spot among the subs goes to Kieran Hardy.

And there are changes in the pack, too: Jac Morgan is cut from the matchday 23, with Taulupe Faletau packing down at eight alongside Justin Tipuric and Christ Tshinuza.

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Alun Wyn Jones returns to partner Adam Beard at lock as Dafydd Jenkins drops to the bench. The pack is completed by a front row of Gareth Thomas, who is called up to the loosehead side, skipper Ken Owens, and Tomas Francis.

Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the Wales front-row cover. Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards selected in the matchday 23.

Warren Gatland said: “There’s some experience coming back into the side with Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny.

“And then we’re mixing that with giving players an opportunity. Owen Williams coming in at ten – we need to find out about that ten position, so Owen gets a chance.

“We’ve given Mason Grady a first cap. He’s a big lad. He’s got some really lovely rugby skills and offloading ability. He’s quick, so he’s the kind of centre I think will have it all going forward. He’s got a good rugby head on him. He’s still pretty inexperienced, so the big message to him has been ‘what’s the biggest thing you need to work on?’

He said, ‘keep talking and communicating’, so that’s been his focus, and I’ve been really happy with him in training.

“The message to the players has been, let’s draw a line in the sand regarding what’s been going on and focus completely on the rugby. We know the history of Wales and England; what that means to everyone in Wales, so we’ve got to go out there and give a good performance.

“For both teams this is a massive game because we win on Saturday and we can get things on track a little bit more. For England it’s a huge game because if you look at their final two games that’s a challenge too, so it’s a huge moment in this competition.”

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