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Pembrokeshire’s Evans to start for Wales

Rob Evans: Set to earn his fourth cap
 Rob Evans: Set to earn his fourth cap
Rob Evans: Set to earn his fourth cap

WALES coach Warren Gatland has given former Haverfordwest rugby starlet Rob Evans a starting place in the front-row for Sunday’s opening Six Nations clash against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, whilst former Narberth player Jonathan Davies also makes a return to the starting line-up after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Evans starts at loose head and will earn his fourth cap in his third match against Ireland.

Rob became the 1,118th player to be capped by Wales when he came on for his debut in the second half of the home fixture against Ireland in last year’s competition and made his first start the following week against Italy in Rome.

He began his rugby journey with Haverfordwest RFC and went on to represent Pembrokeshire U12s, which saw him packing down against his fellow Wales prop Samson Lee, who at the time was playing for Llanelli.

Propping is in his blood as his younger brother Oli has propped for Narberth, whilst his father Graham was a front-rower for many years with Haverfordwest.

At 6ft 1ins and 18st 4lbs he is a formidable opponent who thrives in the loose, and Wales coach Gatland has hailed him as one for the future, saying: “Rob (Evans) gets a start at loose-head, he’s played well for us before and deserves a chance looking ahead to the next few years.”

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As well as a start for Evans, Gatland sprung a surprise at his selection by also selecting Justin Tipiric and Blues winger Tom James in his starting 15.

Tipuric starts the game at the Aviva Stadium at openside flanker with captain Sam Warburton at blindside and Taulupe Faletau at number eight, completing an all-British and Irish Lions back-row.

In the back-line James, who last played for Wales in the autumn of 2010, and made his debut back in 2007, will win his 10th cap on the wing. James will form a new look back three alongside Gareth Anscombe and George North.  Anscombe, who made his international debut against Ireland last August, will make his first RBS 6 Nations start as he lines up at fullback.

Jonathan Davies returns to the side from injury for the first time since last year’s Six Nations and he is named alongside Jamie Roberts in midfield to reform Wales’ most capped centre pairing.

Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies are the halfbacks and they line-up together for the fifth consecutive match.

In the pack Evans is joined in the front-row by Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin and Scarlets prop Samson Lee.

Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones continue their partnership in the second row.

“We are excited by the make-up of the squad, it’s very experienced along with one eye looking to the future,” said Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland.

“We have been impressed with Tom James’ form for Cardiff Blues and we are excited by the mix of the back-row which has played well together before.  It’s great to see Jonathan

(Davies) back and alongside Jamie, which makes a pretty experienced midfield.  Gareth (Anscombe) at fullback also gives us the option of having two first receivers.

“We have a very experienced bench, with a lot of caps there and hopefully they will come on and make an impact.”

“It’s going to be a physical game. Two years ago they strangled us out of the match and played well and we have to rise to that challenge on Sunday.”

On the bench Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins and Tomas Francis provide the front-row cover with Bradley Davies and Dan Lydiate rounding off the forward contingent.  Davies will win his 50th cap if he takes to the field in Dublin. Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland and Alex Cuthbert provide the backline cover.

Wales team to play Ireland:

Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Jonathan Davies (ASM Clermont), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), Tom James (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets); Rob Evans (Scarlets), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Racing 92), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, CAPT), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Priestland (Bath Rugby), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues).