Six Nations: Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland boost for Wales

Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts
Rhys Priestland and Jamie Roberts were key players for Wales at the World Cup

Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland have been passed fit for Wales' Six Nations opener in Ireland on Sunday but an ankle injury rules out Dan Lydiate.

British and Irish Lions centre Roberts and fly-half Priestland have both recovered from knee injuries while Ryan Jones will replace flanker Lydiate.

Rhys Gill replaces injured prop Gethin Jenkins at loose-head while Huw Bennett is in for crocked hooker Matthew Rees.

Alex Cuthbert makes his first start in place of retired wing Shane Williams.

Roberts has been out since hobbling off in Cardiff Blues' Welsh derby against Newport Gwent Dragons on 23 December but coach Warren Gatland feels he has sufficiently recovered.

Gatland, who delayed naming his side for two days until Friday to give the injured players a chance to prove their fitness, is also confident Priestland is ready to return despite playing a limited role in training.

Even with the presence of Roberts and Priestland, the Wales team will be substantially different to the one that beat Ireland in October's World Cup quarter-final in New Zealand.

Lydiate, Lions prop Jenkins (knee) and locks Alun Wyn Jones (toe) and Luke Charteris (wrist) are missing through injury while Williams has retired.

Bradley Davies and Ian Evans, however, were second-row partners in Wales' December friendly defeat by Australia and continue due to the absence of World Cup locks Charteris and Jones.

Prop Gill, whose only other Wales cap was as a replacement in Ireland in 2010, is rewarded for his impressive form for Saracens in the Heineken Cup and is chosen ahead of the more experienced Paul James to replace Jenkins.

Leigh Halfpenny impressed at full-back during the World Cup and continues in that role at the Aviva Stadium as 21-year-old Blues wing Cuthbert, who is 6ft 6ins, and 6ft 4ins George North form a giant wing partnership.

Scarlets captain Rees, who missed the World Cup to undergo neck surgery, will miss the visit to Dublin because of a calf strain so Bennett, an able deputy in New Zealand, will win his 50th cap.

"We have been able to retain continuity in some key areas," said Gatland.

"We have been working hard and we feel we are approaching this match with the right attitude and with some good preparation work done.

"We are two sides who know each other well; Ireland will not have enjoyed losing to us in New Zealand, they will want to redress the balance in Dublin this weekend, but they will find us in just as determined mood."

Ireland have enjoyed a far less troubled build-up and have been able to name the same forward pack that started against in October's 22-10 defeat by Wales.

But talisman Brian O'Driscoll is absent with a shoulder injury and Keith Earls ruled out on Friday for personal reasons, so Fergus McFadden has been promoted from the bench to outside centre


Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert; J Davies, J Roberts; G North; R Priestland, M Phillips; R Gill, H Bennett, A Jones, B Davies, I Evans, R Jones, S Warburton (c), T Faletau.

Replacements: K Owens, P James, A Powell, J Tipuric, L Williams, J Hook, S Williams.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, R O'Gara, E Reddan, D Kearney.