Six Nations: Cautious Gatland leaves Warburton out of Italy match
WALES captain Sam Warburton will miss his second game of this season’s RBS Six Nations Championship after being sidelined for the Millennium Stadium clash against Italy on Saturday.
Prop Gethin Jenkins takes over as skipper from flanker Warburton, who has a knee problem, with Ospreys openside Justin Tipuric packing down in the back-row alongside Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau. The highly-rated Tipuric, 22, makes his first Wales start, with Warburton ruled out. Tipuric steps into a role that was filled by Aaron Shingler when Warburton sat out the Scotland game last month because of a thigh injury that forced him off at half-time in Dublin the previous weekend. And Wales coach Warren Gatland has clearly decided to take no chances with his World Cup leader ahead of a potential Six Nations title decider and Grand Slam game against France on Saturday week.
Gatland has made one other change from the side that beat England at Twickenham 10 days ago, recalling fit-again hooker Matthew Rees instead of Ken Owens. Rees’ return means Gatland can field the 2009 British and Irish Lions Test front-row of Jenkins, Rees and Adam Jones.
Former Wales captain Rees missed the World Cup due to a neck complaint, while a calf muscle strain hampered him during the early part of Wales’ Six Nations campaign.
Centre Jamie Roberts, meanwhile, takes his place in midfield after recovering from a knee injury, allowing Gatland to name an unchanged back division for the fourth successive game. And there is a notable addition to the bench, with World Cup lock Luke Charteris providing second-row cover.
Charteris has played just one game – for Newport Gwent Dragons against Munster three days ago – since undergoing wrist surgery after the World Cup. Three changes on the bench see Charteris replace Tipuric, Owens taking over from Richard Hibbard and James Hook, fit again following a bout of chickenpox, in for Stephen Jones.
Victory for Wales over Italy – they have never lost to the Azzurri in Cardiff – would leave them needing to beat France at home to secure a second Six Nations title and Grand Slam of Gatland’s four-year reign.