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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Wales blood new faces
Nicky Robinson
Nicky Robinson will make his Test debut at full-back
Coach Steve Hansen has turned to an untried line-up for the first of Wales' World Cup warm-ups against Ireland in Dublin next Saturday.

There are two new caps in the side, Gwent Dragons back-row man Rhys Oakley and Cardiff fly-half Nicky Robinson, who starts at full-back.

A further four uncapped men could make an appearance from the bench - Huw Bennett, Andy Williams, Robin Sowden-Taylor and Nathan Brew.

None of Wales' four 'squad captains' - Colin Charvis, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Robin McBryde - make the 22, meaning that the team will be led by wing Gareth Thomas.

We simply can't play our best side in four successive games in a two-week period
Steve Hansen
"Gareth has been one of our best and most consistent players who can command the respect of his team," said Hansen.

"Since his recall to the squad he has been a leader both on and off the field for us."

Wales are coming off the back of a nine-game losing run, but Hansen continues to insist that the performance rather than the result is the crucial factor.

"The first thing we have got to do before we can go to the World Cup is reduce our squad to 30 players," he said. "We simply can't play our best side in four successive games in a two-week period."

"We have brought in players from outside our original 43-strong squad because of injuries. We are short on full-backs and wings at present, which means that Nicky Robinson, Garan Evans and Nathan Brew have been given the chance to play at this level.

"There are some exciting partnerships in the side and we have told all the players that there are World Cup places up for grabs - that should provide them with ample incentive to go out and perform like true Test players."

Michael Owen
Wales are looking to develop Owen as a lock
Hansen has targeted Gwent Dragons star Michael Owen as a solution to Wales' problem second-row spot.

He has previously been seen as a back-row player at international level, but his long-term future is seen at lock.

"We are working hard to turn him into a big, mobile, ball-handling second row," said Hansen, "That's what his training programme is geared to and he is adapting very well to it.

"We are looking to the future with players like Michael and these four games are ideal to give him the chance to try out in that position."

Ireland beat Wales 24-25 in Cardiff in March, thanks to a last-minute Ronan O'Gara drop-goal.

The Dragons' last game in Dublin was a 54-10 hammering back in February 2002, a result that led to Graham Henry's resignation and the beginning of Hansen's reign.


Wales team to face Ireland: Nicky Robinson (Cardiff Blues); Garan Evans (Llanelli Scarlets), Jamie Robinson (Cardiff Blues), Iestyn Harris (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Thomas (Celtic Warriors, capt); Ceri Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), Dwayne Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); Duncan Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), Mefin Davies (Celtic Warriors), Ben Evans (Cardiff Blues), Michael Owen (Gwent Dragons), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), Rhys Oakley (Gwent Dragons), Richard Parks (Celtic Warriors), Alix Popham (Leeds Tykes).
Replacements: Huw Bennett (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Celtic Warriors), Vernon Cooper (Llanelli Scarlets), Robin Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff Blues), Andy Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), Andy Marinos (Gwent Dragons), Nathan Brew (Gwent Dragons).




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