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Faletau returns to lead Wales

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TAULUPE Faletau will lead Wales for the first time as he returns to the starting line-up as captain for Sunday’s NatWest 6 Nations clash against Italy in Cardiff (KO 15:00)

The 70-times capped No. 8 returns from injury to take the captain’s armband and will line-up in a new look back row for Wales with fellow British & Irish Lion Justin Tipuric wearing six with Scarlets flanker James Davies making his international debut at openside.

Experienced Bradley Davies, who has featured in all three opening Six Nations encounters for Wales from the bench, starts alongside Cory Hill in the second-row for the match that is part of a double-header with Wales Women (who kick off at 11:45). ​

Nicky Smith and Tomas Francis join Elliot Dee in the front-row, the Dragons hooker making his first start for his country.

Gareth Davies partners Gareth Anscombe at half-back with Owen Watkin coming in for his first Six Nations start to partner Hadleigh Parkes in the midfield.

Liam Williams moves to full-back as George North comes into the starting XV to form a back-three alongside Steff Evans.

“It is a great opportunity for Taulupe, he is a world class player, hugely experienced and this will be great for his development and we are looking forward to seeing those leadership qualities come through,” said Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland.

“We have made some changes, but we are bringing in a lot of quality and a lot of experience with the likes of Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, George North and Taulupe.

“Add into that James Davies who gets his first cap, Elliot Dee who gets his first start – this is a great opportunity for them to play tournament rugby.

“It is challenging making changes, but we have picked a really exciting team and Sunday is their chance.”

Scarlets trio Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Samson Lee provide the front-row cover with Cardiff Blues duo Seb Davies and Ellis Jenkins completing the forward contingent on the bench.  Scarlets’ Aled Davies, Rhys Patchell and Leigh Halfpenny provide the back-line cover.

Wales Team to Play Italy:

Liam Williams (Saracens) (46 Caps)

George North (Northampton Saints) (71 Caps)

Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (3 Caps)

Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (4 Caps)

Steff Evans (Scarlets) (8 Caps)

Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues) (14 Caps)

Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (30 Caps)

Nicky Smith (Ospreys) (16 Caps)

Elliot Dee (Dragons) (5 Caps)

Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (29 Caps)

Cory Hill (Dragons) (13 Caps)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys) (60 Caps)

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (55 Caps)

James Davies (Scarlets) (*Uncapped)

Taulupe Faletau (Bath) (70 Caps) (CAPT)

Replacements:

Ken Owens (Scarlets) (55 Caps)

Rob Evans (Scarlets) (23 Caps)

Samson Lee (Scarlets) (37 Caps)

Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues) (3 Caps)

Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues) (5 Caps)

Aled Davies (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Rhys Patchell (Scarlets) (7 Caps)

Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets) (76 Caps)

News

Nigel Owens hosts virtual rugby quiz for Pembroke Panthers

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PEMBROKE Panthers RFC enjoyed a rugby return during lockdown after winning a competition which saw international referee Nigel Owens host their own virtual clubhouse quiz, thanks to Principality Building Society.

The women’s squad at the Pembroke club beat more than 1000 entries to win Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz competition. With many clubs affected by widespread flooding at the start of this year and now closed indefinitely due to coronavirus, the building society is continually looking for ways to support grassroots rugby clubs in Wales.

Pembroke Panther Lucy Neale, 30, entered her team with the hope of bringing the players together online. She said: “We’d usually see each other up to five times a week between training sessions, matches and socials, so it’s been a really strange time. I thought I’d enter the club thinking it would be a nice pick-me-up for us all, but never actually expected to win so it was an amazing surprise.”

The team were tested on their rugby knowledge by world cup referee Nigel Owens over video conferencing platform Zoom, where players won tickets to Welsh internationals at Principality Stadium, signed rugby shirts and balls, and tickets for a tour around Principality Stadium. The quiz included a guest appearance from former Welsh international Tom Shanklin.

Lucy continued: “It was such a memorable and special evening for us all. We’re usually quite a lively bunch but we behaved well for Nigel. We’re so thankful to Principality for putting on the quiz and allowing us to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience as a team.”

As sponsors of Principality Stadium and the National Youth Leagues for grassroots clubs in Wales, Principality has a strong relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union and knows how much rugby means to communities across the country. With matches on hold currently, the building society wanted to be able to bring the buzz of the clubhouse to the home.

Clubhouse Quiz host, Nigel Owens, said: “Principality’s Clubhouse Quiz was a fantastic way to bring one team closer together and Pembroke Panthers really showed off their rugby knowledge. Rugby plays such an important role in Welsh communities and I know they’ll be missing the action on the field right now, so it was lovely to have been part of this experience to bring this team together. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sin bin any of them either.”

Julie-Ann Haines, Chief Customer Officer at Principality Building Society, said: “Many rugby clubs across Wales have had a really difficult year, with flood damage to pitches and clubhouses now followed by coronavirus. This was our chance to recreate the camaraderie of the clubhouse for one team and we hope that it brought plenty of laughs and memorable moments for Pembroke Panthers at this challenging time.”

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Wales v Scotland postponed

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WALES’ Six Nations match at home to Scotland on Saturday has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The two other Six Nation fixtures had already been postponed and no date has been confirmed to complete the 2020 Championship.

The Welsh Rugby Union had insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.

A WRU statement read: “The Welsh Rugby Union has maintained an open dialogue with, and continued to seek advice and direction from, the National Assembly for Wales and other stakeholders, including the Six Nations, on this fast-moving issue.

“Whilst medical advice remains consistent, we have decided that it is in the best interests of supporters, players and staff to fall in line with recent measures taken across the UK and global sports industries.

“The WRU would like to thank all parties for their counsel on the subject and will make further announcements with respect to rescheduling the fixture in the coming days.

“Every effort has been made to stage this game and we appreciate that individuals will have been inconvenienced. Given the fluid and unprecedented nature of this issue a postponement became the only viable option.”

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Domestic football at all levels in Wales suspended

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THE FOOTBALL Association of Wales has today (13 March) taken the decision to suspend domestic football at all levels in Wales with immediate effect until April 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The intention at this time will be to resume the football schedule depending on the medical advice and conditions from the relevant authorities at that time.

The FAW is fully aware of the impact this will have on the domestic game but the health and safety of all fans, players, volunteers and stakeholders are of paramount importance.

The FAW will continue to monitor this situation on a day-by-day basis and will continue to provide updates when appropriate.

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