Autumn Nations Cup: George North back at centre for Wales against Italy

George North has scored 40 tries for Wales in 97 internationals with three more Tests for the British and Irish Lions
George North has scored 40 tries for Wales in 97 internationals with three more Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions
Autumn Nations Cup: Fifth-place play-off - Wales v Italy
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli Date: Saturday, 5 December Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru; watch on S4C and follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

Wales have recalled George North at outside centre in a much-changed side to face Italy in Saturday's Autumn Nations Cup fifth-place play-off.

Half-backs Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy are handed second starts.

Flanker Justin Tipuric is fit after missing the England defeat through concussion, while full-back Liam Williams returns after 15 stitches in a lip wound picked up against Georgia.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac makes nine changes in total from the England game.

This is after Pivac made 13 changes against Georgia and a further eight alterations against England.

Nicky Smith, Sam Parry and Tomas Francis comprise a new-look front row, with hooker Parry making his first start for Wales after three appearances from the bench.

Will Rowlands partners Alun Wyn Jones in the second row with James Botham lining up alongside Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau in the back row.

Josh Navidi was again unavailable because of concussion and the Cardiff Blues back-rower has not played since September.

Hardy and Sheedy start together for a second time with Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar dropping out of the squad altogether.

"We know what Dan can and can't do and he played pretty well against England," said Pivac.

"This match and the Georgia game was always going to be the type of game we continued the trend towards of giving guys an opportunity.

"We believe Callum went well against Georgia and this will be a step-up."

The major surprise comes with the return of wing North in the centre alongside Johnny Williams.

North had missed the Autumn Nations Cup games against England and Georgia after being released back to Ospreys to get some game time.

The British and Irish Lions player, 28, made his 100th Test appearance as a replacement during Wales' opening defeat in Ireland.

The last time North started a match at outside centre for Wales was their 42-0 Six Nations win over Italy earlier this year.

Jonathan Davies is the first-choice 13 but has been missed the last two games after suffering a knee injury against Ireland.

"We played George there against Italy at the outset back in February," said Pivac.

"We know Jonathan Davies has had some injuries over the last few years. It's about who is going to be in behind Jonathan and take that role when he is not there.

"Nick (Tompkins) has had an opportunity and George gets a second go at it. This is the time to ask the questions and get the answers."

Liam Williams is recalled at the expense of Leigh Halfpenny, while Bristol teenager Ioan Lloyd is named among the replacements.

"Saturday is another opportunity for these players and, for us as a squad, it is another opportunity to continue to build and to see the results of all the hard work in training," said Pivac.

"We have blooded eight new caps this campaign and importantly by the end of the match each of them would have had a number of appearances to their name.

"From the outset we wanted this campaign to be about giving players opportunity and we have done that.

"The hard work in training is coming through and we want to show that again on Saturday and finish the campaign on a high, with the performance and result we want."

This is Wales' final game of the year having lost seven out of nine games under Pivac in 2020, with the only victories coming against Italy and Georgia.

They finished third in Group A of the Autumn Nations Cup and face Italy who finished in the same position in Group B.

Wales team

Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Johnny Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit; Callum Sheedy, Kieran Hardy; Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), James Botham, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Ioan Lloyd, Jonah Holmes.


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