Six Nations 2015: Wales recall George North and Richard Hibbard

Warren Gatland calls an audible as he announces team to face England at the Millennium Stadium 48 hours early

Warren Gatland has recalled wing George North and hooker Richard Hibbard to face England in the Six Nations opener in Cardiff on Friday night.

The only surprise was that the Wales head coach announced his squad two days earlier than scheduled.

It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa, but its good to have these and other tough selection decisions and it’s a strong position to be in.

Warren Gatland

Gatland admitted at last week’s Six Nations launch in London that it would be difficult to change a winning team, with Wales winning 12-6 against South Africa in their final Dove Men Series international in November, and changes have been kept to a minimum with Wales boasting a clean bill of health in their squad, much to the envy of their bitter rivals, who are negotiating more than a dozen injuries.

Gloucester hooker Hibbard was unavailable for selection for the match against the Springboks as the match fell outside World Rugby’s international window, while Northampton Saints star North was ruled out with an injury, but Gatland revealed North would have been dropped for that game.

“We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation,” Gatland said.

“It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa, but its good to have these and other tough selection decisions and it’s a strong position to be in.

“We are excited about kicking the tournament off on Friday against a strong England side in front of a packed Millennium Stadium.”

Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton will win his 50th cap against England as the 26-year-old captain continues his familiar back-row partnership with chop-tackling Ospreys blindside Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau, the Newport Gwent Dragons number eight.

After a superb autumn series, Scarlets lock Jake Ball and his beard to be feared continue in the second row alongside Ospreys star Alun Wyn Jones.

Packing down either side of Hibbard in the front row is British and Irish Lions veteran Gethin Jenkins on the loosehead and Scarlets tighthead talent Samson Lee, the new kid who took iconic prop’s shirt and performed well in November.

Wales continue with the Guinness PRO12’s premier half-back partnership as the Ospreys’ Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb show returns to the Millennium Stadium.

Clermont Auvergne centre Jonathan Davies has overcome his glute problem to take his place at outside-centre alongside Jamie Roberts, while North’s return to the left wing sees unlucky Scarlets full-back/wing Liam Williams relegated to the bench as Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert keeps his place on the right wing and Toulon points machine Leigh Halfpenny continues at full-back.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster is due to name his squad on Wednesday.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), George North (Northampton Saints); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, captain), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Paul James (Bath Rugby), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys); Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Liam Williams (Scarlets).

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