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Sport North at centre for Wales against Italy with debutant McNicholl on wing


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Sport North at centre for Wales against Italy with debutant McNicholl on wing

George North suffered a hamstring injury in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa and missed the third place playoffSix Nations: Wales v ItalyVenue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 1 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMTCoverage: Live on BBC One Wales & S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport…

Sport North at centre for Wales against Italy with debutant McNicholl on wing

Sport

sport George North

George North suffered a hamstring injury in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa and missed the third place playoff
Six Nations: Wales v Italy
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 1 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One Wales & S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

George North will start at outside centre in Wales’ Six Nations opener against Italy, with uncapped Johnny McNicholl taking his place on the wing.

This will be North’s fifth start at centre in his 92nd Test, with Wales struggling with injuries in midfield.

New Zealand-born McNicholl, Wales-qualified through residency, plays his first Test after scoring a try in last year’s uncapped win over Barbarians.

Tomos Williams is preferred to the returning Rhys Webb at scrum-half.

Saturday’s match at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium will be Wayne Pivac’s first Test since succeeding Warren Gatland as head coach of the reigning Six Nations champions.

Webb returns for his first Wales game since December 2017 on the replacements bench, with Gareth Davies failing to shake off a late injury.

The centre vacancy for North has been created with British and Irish Lions team-mate Jonathan Davies missing the tournament through a knee injury and Owen Watkin still returning to fitness from his own knee problem.

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Wales coach Wayne Pivac can’t wait to kick of the Six Nations against Italy

Saracens centre Nick Tompkins is in line to win his first Wales cap after being named on the bench.

Former England Under-20s centre Tompkins, 24, qualifies through his Welsh grandmother who was born in Wrexham.

Elsewhere, number eight Taulupe Faletau returns for his first international in almost two years.

Faletau’s most recent Test match was against France in March 2018 and he was then sidelined by a succession of arm and collarbone injuries which forced him to miss the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Aaron Wainwright and Justin Tipuric join Faletau in the back row, while Cardiff Blues flanker Josh Navidi will miss the start of the Six Nations with a hamstring injury.

With Tomas Francis injured, Dillon Lewis starts at tight-head prop alongside Scarlets duo Wyn Jones and Ken Owens in the front row.

Tight-head prop Leon Brown will make his tournament debut from the bench, while Jake Ball joins captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second row.

“Johnny McNicholl is a player we know a lot about,” said Pivac.

“I have worked with him for a number of years now and had a good run-out with us against the Barbarians and has trained well during the week so has got the start.

“George has played a couple of games in the centre for Ospreys and has had four starts for Wales so it is not foreign to him.

“George has trained well and taken the challenge up and looking to a fresh start.”

When asked if North could move to centre more permanently in the second half of his career, Pivac replied: “Potentially, those are some of the conversations we have had.

“Unfortunately Jonathan [Davies] has the long-term injury at the moment so a couple of players are going to get that opportunity and George gets first crack.”

There is no room in the 23-man squad for Gloucester’s 18-year-old wing Louis Rees-Zammit.

Tomos Williams scored tries against Georgia and Uruguay at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Pivac admitted an injury sustained against Toulouse and having to return to his English club to play last weekend counted against Rees-Zammit.

“Personally when we selected Louis we looked at the Italian game as a possibility,” said Pivac.

“Unfortunately he came into a camp with an injury and only had the one run in training and being an exile he had to go home.

“He has not had the opportunities that Johnny [McNicholl] or Josh Adams so that has counted against him with the injury and unavailability.

“But he looked good on Tuesday [in training] and he has a bright future in the game.

“Louis and I have had a chat about him being based in England. The more players we have based in Wales when we are in camp does benefit us, no doubt about it.”

Italy’s temporary head coach Franco Smith has named Carlo Canna, usually a fly-half, at inside centre, with Tommaso Allan at 10.

Alessandro Zanni, who has 117 caps to his name, captains the side in the second row, where he is joined by debutant Niccolò Cannone.

Prop Danilo Fischetti is also in line to make his debut from the bench.

For the latest Welsh rugby union news follow @BBCScrumV on Twitter.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, George North, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

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Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Ross Moriarty, Rhys Webb, Jarrod Evans, Nick Tompkins.

Italy: Matteo Minozzi; Leonardo Sarto, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini; Tommaso Allan, Callum Braley, Giosuè Zilocchi, Luca Bigi (capt), Andrea Lovotti, Alessandro Zanni, Niccolò Cannone, Sebastian Negri, Jake Polledri, Abraham Steyn.

Replacements: Federico Zani, Danilo Fischetti, Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, Dean Budd, Giovanni Licata, Guglielmo Palazzani, Jayden Hayward.

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