Captain Sam Warburton returns for Wales against Italy
Warren Gatland selects a strong side to face Azzurri with George North starting again
Wales Captain Sam Warburton returns to the starting line-up for Saturday’s World Cup warm-up against Italy. Photograph: PA
Warburton took a knock to his shoulder during training earlier this month and rested it for last weekend’s appointment with Ireland in Dublin that Wales won 16-10.
Head coach Warren Gatland has named a strong team for Wales’ final World Cup preparation fixture, with the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Gethin Jenkins also starting.
Warburton will pack down in the back-row alongside James King and Taulupe Faletau, while Gatland retains the front-row of Gethin Jenkins, Ken Owens and Exeter newcomer Tomas Francis that started against Ireland.
Elsewhere, there is a first start of the warm-up period for Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen, who is partnered by Scott Williams in midfield, with Gatland parading an all British and Irish Lions back-three of Halfpenny, North and Alex Cuthbert.
Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb continue as half-backs, but prop Samson Lee, who is progressing well and continuing his recovery from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in March, does not feature among the match-day 23.
Gatland’s options off the bench include two players — Cardiff Blues hooker Kristian Dacey and Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty — who missed out on the 31-man World Cup squad that was announced earlier this week.
Dacey and Moriarty have remained with the Wales camp, and look set to win their second caps on Saturday.
Gatland said: “With our opening Rugby World Cup fixture just two weeks away, this weekend is an important run-out and opportunity for fine-tuning.
“We were happy with the performance away from home in Ireland last weekend, but there are plenty of things we need to work on from that victory, so we will be looking to put those in place on Saturday.
“We’ve made a couple of changes to try a few new combinations and ensure players get some more game-time under their belts.”
Wales kick off their World Cup campaign against Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium on September 20, but quarter-final hopes look certain to hinge on the outcome of crunch Twickenham clashes with group rivals England and Australia.
Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, C Allen, S Williams, G North; D Biggar, R Webb; G Jenkins, K Owens, T Francis, J Ball, D Day, J King , S Warburton, T Faletau.
Replacements: K Dacey, P James, A Jarvis , L Charteris , R Moriarty, G Davies, R Priestland, M Morgan.