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Prop James wins shock Wales call

WALES v NEW ZEALAND
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Date: 7 November Kick-off: 1715 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC TWO Wales, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, plus commentary online

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James' shock at Gatland's call

Ospreys prop Paul James is the shock Wales selection to play in the problem tight-head position against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

James Hook plays at full-back - another role affected by injury.

Regular full-back Lee Byrne and tight-head Adam Jones are injured and wing Mark Jones is out for six weeks.

So Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams are on the wings while coach Warren Gatland has opted for Andy Powell's bulk and power at blindside flanker.

James' inclusion means world class loose-head Gethin Jenkins starts in his favoured position.

"We wanted Gethin to start so it was a case of seeing which of the other three props [Duncan Jones, James and fellow Osprey Craig Mitchell] stood out in training this week," said Gatland.

"Paul has edged it and we know he won't let us down, he may have just had the one cap.

606: DEBATE

"But he has been around this Wales squad since making the tour to north America in the summer and at 27-years-old has had plenty of experience and should be coming into his prime as a front row forward."

James won his only previous cap in his regular loosehead prop position against Romania in 2003 while Hook last played full-back as a replacement on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in the summer.

Since then James has been among those players trailing in the wake of regular Wales number one Gethin Jenkins and his long-term Ospreys rival Duncan Jones.

James has started twice at tight-head for his region, at Bristol in December 2005 and at Liberty Stadium against Gloucester in September 2006.

But he has made other appearances in the position as a replacement and captained the Ospreys on numerous occasions.

James also led his era's Wales Under 21 side to Grand Slam glory.

Cardiff Blues' John Yapp has also been more highly favoured at loosehead than James, but is also currently out with a bicep injury.

Yapp has been attempting to convert to loosehead for the past year and last week Gatland made it clear to Sale's Eifion Lewis-Roberts that he has to become fitter to have an international future.

Lewis-Roberts is, like scrum-half Dwayne Peel, in any case unavailable to Wales for the coming weekend's clash against the All Blacks due to a row over player-release with the English-based club.

We have asked James [Hook] to play at full-back before and it's a boost for any side to be able to have someone of his calibre on the field

Wales coach Warren Gatland

The match is being played outside the recognised International Rugby Board window and Sale are under no obligation to release Peel, the only non-Welsh-based player in the 29-man squad.

Picking Powell in the number six jersey could also be seen as something of a gamble.

Powell is more regularly a number eight, but since returning from the British and Irish Lions tour has played sometimes at flanker for the Blues, who prefer Xavier Rush in the middle of the back-row.

There are 14 changes to the line-up that started the 48-15 win over the United States in June, a match played while the nation's top players were on Lions duty in South Africa.

But there are seven changes to the team that lost to Grand Slam winners Ireland in the 2009 Six Nations finale in Cardiff.

Gatland added: "The coaches have looked for consistency of selection, we have asked James [Hook] to play at full-back before and it's a boost for any side to be able to have someone of his calibre on the field in whatever position that may be.

"We have an experienced pairing at centre, two exciting wingers and the Lions play-maker running the back line at fly-half, so we think we have a pretty good side out there.

"New Zealand will be looking to get the European part of their tour off to a winning start and were pretty slick in their demolition of Australia at the weekend. We are looking forward to facing them at the Millennium Stadium again and are expecting an exciting game."


Wales starting XV v New Zealand: James Hook (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts (all Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Gareth Cooper; Gethin Jenkins (both Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Paul James, Alun-Wyn Jones (both Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), Andy Powell, Martyn Williams (both Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Duncan Jones, Bradley Davies, Dafydd Jones, Martin Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Tom James.


Wales squad for autumn international series:

Backs: Dan Biggar James Hook, Shane Williams (Ospreys); Gareth Cooper, Jamie Roberts, Tom Shanklin, Tom James, Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Martin Roberts, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Davies (Scarlets); Dwayne Peel (Sale).

Forwards: Paul James, Duncan Jones, Craig Mitchell, Huw Bennett, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Sam Warburton, Martyn Williams (Blues); Matthew Rees, Dafydd Jones (Scarlets); Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate (Dragons).



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