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Six Nations: Wales pick James Hook at full-back

2011 Six Nations Championship - Wales v England
Venue: Millennium Stadium Date: Friday, 4 February Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One from 1930 (BBC Wales and Red Button from 1900); listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Wales; live text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles

James Hook
Ospreys star James Hook has deputised for Wales full-back Lee Byrne in the past

Wales coach Warren Gatland has confirmed James Hook will play full-back in Friday's Six Nations opener against England in Cardiff.

Hook replaces Lee Byrne who is named as a replacement, while Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts are paired at centre.

With Leigh Halfpenny injured, Morgan Stoddart gets the nod on the right wing for his first cap since 2008.

Paul James and Craig Mitchell replace injured props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones and Andy Powell starts at eight.

In all Wales show eight changes from the defeat by the All Blacks in November with Hook the only survivor outside the half-backs.

Jonathan Davies form influences James Hook switch with Wales

And there are only four survivors - Shane Williams, Hook, Mike Phillips and Alun Wyn Jones - from the Wales team which played against France in the 2008 Grand Slam year.

Although Hook has won the majority of his caps at centre and also impressed in his preferred fly-half position, the Perpignan-bound Ospreys star has deputised impressively at 15 in the past when Byrne has been absent injured.

That saw Hook start the autumn international series at full-back against Australia, although Byrne returned to the 15 shirt for the subsequent games with South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand once fit.

"Lee Byrne misses out solely through virtue of the fact he has had limited game time after injury and he will offer us some impact from the bench, which is fairly experienced in itself and will undoubtedly be utilised during the evening," said Wales assistant coach Rob Howley.

The duel between Hook and England full-back Ben Foden could turn out to be the pick of the personal battles on Friday.

And the centre confrontation is set to be another highlight with fit-again Davies and Roberts replacing the Hook-Tom Shanklin partnership.

It sees Roberts make his first international appearance since the summer tour of New Zealand, after which he was sidelined for five months with a wrist injury.

Dwayne Peel returns on the bench but has failed to depose Lions scrum-half Phillips, who continues his partnership with stand-off Stephen Jones.

Record Wales try-scorer Williams gets the nod on the wing despite having only playing 23 minutes rugby for the Ospreys since returning to action after shoulder surgery in November.

New Wales faces impress Edwards

On the other flank Stoddart is included despite question marks in the past over his defence, although that was mainly when he played at full-back, but his attacking talents and raw pace are unquestioned.

In the pack there are few surprises in the front five, with Ospreys pair Mitchell and James enforced changes at prop for Lions duo Jenkins and Jones.

Matthew Rees captains the side from hooker, with Bradley Davies and Alun Wyn Jones continuing their partnership at lock.

However, the back row sees Gatland opt for youth and mobility to combat England's breakaway trio with Sam Warburton at open-side, Dan Lydiate at six and the resurgent Powell at number eight.

"In the front row we have two guys [James and Mitchell] who have done well at regional level and know each others' games either side of our leader and the Lions hooker in Matthew Rees, so we are comfortable with the selection," said Howley.

"The second row has been consistent in recent times and we have two good youngsters who have both been playing exceptionally well coming into the back row.

"Dan [Lydiate] was magnificent for us in the autumn and Sam [Warburton] has been going great for the Blues in Europe recently and there is a nice balance there with the ball-carrying abilities of Andy Powell completing the trio.

"This is going to be a battle of inches and not yards and we know if the pack can dominate like they did in our autumn games we are in with a good chance.

"We did debate selection at fly-half and elsewhere in the backs, but we feel we have settled on the right pairing there with the experience they offer.

"We are playing England at the home of Welsh rugby at the start of the Rugby World Cup year so we are looking to get ourselves off to a great start and create some momentum and I can't think of a better place for a Welshman to do that."

With Lydiate at blind-side and Powell at number eight, it means former captain Ryan Jones forced to drop to the bench - where he covers the lock positions as well as the back row - and also leaves no place in the starting XV for fellow Osprey Jonathan Thomas, so often an important performer for Wales at the line-out.

The uncapped Rhys Priestland joins Peel and Byrne as the replacements behind the scrum.

Wales: James Hook (Ospreys); Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, capt), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Dan Lydiate (Dragons), Sam Warburton (Blues), Andy Powell (Wasps).
Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), D Peel (Sale), R Priestland (Scarlets), L Byrne (Ospreys).

England: B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Tindall (Gloucester, capt), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), D Wilson (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Banahan (Bath).

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see also
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Wales dealt Halfpenny injury blow
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Davies calls for Hartley sledging
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England primed for hot reception
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Wales urged to pick Hook at 10
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Hook happy to fill Wales 15 shirt
26 Oct 10 |  Welsh
Johnson backs Hartley to respond
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Gatland questions Hartley value
25 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Faletau suffers Wales injury blow
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Williams omitted from Wales squad
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Six Nations to end Friday games
26 Jan 11 |  Welsh
Wales 25-37 New Zealand
27 Nov 10 |  Welsh
Wales' rugby fixtures
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Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh

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