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Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 10:49 GMT
Wales team to face Italy
Gareth Thomas
Steve Hansen finds a place for Gareth Thomas
Whatever other debates are going on in Welsh rugby, this is one that always gets the fans going.

Steve Hansen has selected his team for the RBS Six Nations opener in Rome on Saturday, 15 February.

BBC Sport profiles the men who will face the Azzurri at the Stadio Flaminio this weekend.

Wales team to face Italy

Full-back - Rhys Williams (Cardiff)

Iestyn Harris
Harris claims the fly-half spot
Hansen is a big fan of Kevin Morgan, but the Swansea full-back lacks match practice. Rhys Williams excelled at 15 in the autumn internationals so takes his place in the team.

Right wing - Mark Jones (Llanelli)

Competition for the back three places is intense and question marks remain about Jones' defence. The Llanelli man is a dynamic attacking force, though, and a positive member of the squad.

Outside centre - Tom Shanklin (Saracens)

The injury to Jamie Robinson opens the way for the Saracens man to start in his favoured outside-centre berth.

Inside centre - Leigh Davies (Llanelli)

The mounting injury list in this position means Hansen has turned to the in-form Llanelli man. Davies has been tried and discarded in the past - can he live up to his undoubted talent this time?

Left wing - Gareth Thomas (Bridgend)

Craig Morgan has not recaptured the form of last season and Thomas performed superbly in the autumn.

Fly-half - Iestyn Harris (Cardiff)

Rugby league import Harris has a chance to claim the No 10 shirt thanks to the broken thumbs suffered by first-choice Stephen Jones and veteran Neil Jenkins. Ceri Sweeney should provide bench back-up.

Scrum-half - Dwayne Peel (Llanelli)

Mefin Davies
Robin McBryde's injury opens the way for Davies
Under pressure from Guy Easterby for his club place, but Peel has done well for Wales and there are few challengers for the jersey vacated by Rob Howley.

Loosehead prop - Iestyn Thomas (Llanelli)

Thomas has been rampant for the Scarlets in Europe, destroying a series of opposition tightheads.

Hooker - Mefin Davies (Pontypridd)

With Robin McBryde, Andrew Lewis and Barry Williams out, the chance has at last opened up for the hard-working and reliable Ponty hooker to show his worth.

Tighthead prop - Ben Evans (Swansea)

An impressive autumn from Evans who has really got his career - and his body - back in shape.

Lock - Steve Williams (Northampton)

Williams gets the nod to start against Italy. Many had expected veteran Gareth Llewellyn to book his place in the team, but Hansen has gone with the man from Northampton.

Lock - Robert Sidoli (Pontypridd)

A storming autumn series from the big Pontypridd second row. Everything Wales has been looking for at lock - athletic, energetic and abrasive.

Blindside flanker - Michael Owen (Pontypridd)

Dafydd Jones does not make the back-row
Dafydd Jones gives way to Michael Owen
Michael Owen has won the battle for the back-row spot ahead of Dafydd Jones. Both have been struggling to hold down club places, which will be a concern to the Wales management.

Vote results: Have Wales got the back-row right?
Yes, Michael Owen deserves his place: 36.82%
No, Dafydd Jones should be starting: 19.96%
Please come back Scott Quinnell! 43.22%

Number eight - Colin Charvis (Swansea, capt)

Charvis will raise himself for the big games. Debate must remain over whether the captain would be better utilised on the blindside.

Openside flanker - Martyn Williams (Cardiff)

Playing superbly in arguably the worst pack in Cardiff's history. Richard Parks will maintain pressure on Williams, but the number seven shirt is firmly in his grasp.

Reps: G Williams (Bridgend), G Jenkins (Pontypridd), D Jones (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bath), G Cooper (Bath), C Sweeney (Pontypridd), M Watkins (Llanelli).


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