Rugby

George North starts at centre for Wales in wooden-spoon decider against Italy

North was omitted from the starting line-up in the 45-24 defeat by France and replaces Joe Roberts.

George North will start for Wales at centre for their wooden-spoon decider against Italy
George North George North will start for Wales at centre for their wooden-spoon decider against Italy (Andrew Matthews/PA)

George North has been recalled to the Wales team for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations wooden-spoon decider against Italy.

North, who was omitted from the starting line-up beaten 45-24 by France, replaces Joe Roberts, with his fellow centre Nick Tompkins returning instead of Owen Watkin.

Two other changes are in the pack, where Harlequins prop Dillon Lewis is preferred to Keiron Assiratti and Cardiff flanker Alex Mann packs down alongside back-row colleagues Tommy Reffell and Aaron Wainwright.

Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins, who featured at blindside flanker against France, returns to the second-row alongside Adam Beard, with Will Rowlands dropping to the bench.

Also among the replacements are uncapped Scarlets prop Harri O’Connor and Cardiff hooker Evan Lloyd, who made his Test debut against France.

Wales have not finished bottom of the Six Nations since 2003, when they lost all five games, but that fate now awaits them if they fail to beat Italy.

Wales are currently four points adrift of the Azzurri, who will arrive in Cardiff following a victory over Scotland and a draw with France.

Bonus points could still come into the equation in terms of deciding which team props up the table, yet Wales are in control of their own destiny.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “This is an important game for us. We definitely don’t want to finish bottom and the squad is hungry to win.

“Italy have quality players throughout the side and have been good at taking opportunities when they get them to keep the scoreboard ticking over. We are excited and will step up and welcome the challenge ahead.

“We are still looking for that 80-minute performance and have spoken about needing to be better in the big moments, especially.

Nick Tompkins has also been recalled to the Wales midfield
Nick Tompkins Nick Tompkins has also been recalled to the Wales midfield (David Davies/PA)

“We understand that external pressure and expectation comes with international rugby.

“It is about embracing that, continuing the hard work and fronting up in training to go out there and be accurate and disciplined on Saturday.”

Team: C Winnett (Cardiff); J Adams (Cardiff), G North (Ospreys), N Tompkins (Saracens), R Dyer (Dragons); S Costelow (Scarlets), T Williams (Cardiff); G Thomas (Ospreys), E Dee (Dragons), D Lewis (Harlequins), D Jenkins (Exeter, capt), A Beard (Ospreys), A Mann (Cardiff), T Reffell (Leicester), A Wainwright (Dragons).

Replacements: E Lloyd (Cardiff), K Mathias (Scarlets), H O’Connor (Scarlets), W Rowlands (Racing 92), M Martin (Cardiff), K Hardy (Scarlets), I Lloyd (Scarlets), M Grady (Cardiff).