Triple Grand Slam winner Ryan Jones will make Welsh rugby history when he replaces Sam Warburton as captain for tomorrow night’s Millennium Stadium clash against Samoa.
The Ospreys flanker accepts that Wales must rediscover their winning formula as he prepares for captaincy duty in a team showing eight changes from last weekend’s dire loss to Argentina.
Warburton, current favourite to skipper the British and Irish Lions in Australia next summer, has seen 23-year-old Ospreys openside Justin Tipuric handed the Wales No 7 shirt. And Jones takes the leadership reins, put in charge for a 29th time to break the Wales record he previously held jointly with Ieuan Evans.
Warburton, Wales’ World Cup leader in New Zealand last autumn and a Grand Slam-winning Six Nations skipper earlier this year, is on the bench alongside four other players – Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Gethin Jenkins and Scott Williams –who started against Argentina.
Jones replaces knee-injury victim Josh Turnbull, with lock Bradley Davies taking over from Alun-Wyn Jones (shoulder) and hooker Richard Hibbard in for Matthew Rees (calf muscle).
Elsewhere, there are starts for centre Ashley Beck, stand-off Dan Biggar, scrum-half Mike Phillips and prop Paul James as Wales target a first victory since they beat the Barbarians more than five months ago.
Biggar, who has been in fine form for the Ospreys this season, featured against the Baa-baas, but his previous Wales start before then came in a 16-16 home draw with Fiji during the 2010 autumn campaign. Midfield powerhouse Jamie Roberts, meanwhile, who was knocked out and concussed during the Pumas clash, makes an immediate return to action after undergoing necessary medical protocols this week.
With 31-year-old Jones comfortably the leading blindside alternative to long-term injury victim Dan Lydiate, Warburton’s omission is perhaps not the surprise it has been highlighted as in some quarters.
Interim head coach Rob Howley Howley said: “With a short six-day turnaround it was important for us to freshen things up and also make use of the competition for places we have within this squad.”
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff); A Cuthbert (Cardiff), A Beck (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); P James (Bath), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jarvis (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Dragons). Subs: K Owens (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Toulon), S Andrews (Cardif), L Charteris (Perpignan), S Warburton (Cardiff), T Knoyle (Scarlets), R Priestland (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets).
Samoa: F Autagavaia (Northland), P Perez (Eastern Province), G Pisi (Northampton), P Williams (Stade Francais), D Lemi (Worcester, captain), T Pisi (Suntory), K Fotuali’i (Ospreys); S Taulafo (Wasps), O Avei (Bordeaux-Begles), C Johnston (Toulouse); D Leo (Perpignan), T Paulo (North Harbour); O Treviranus (London Irish), M Fa’asavalu (Harlequins), T Tuifua (Newcastle).
Replacement: T Paulo (Clermont Auvergne), V Afatia (Agen), J Johnston (Harlequins), TBA, T Fomai (Hawke’s Bay), J Su’a (Tasman), J Leota (Sale), R Lilomaiava (Laulii).