South Africa v Wales: Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell handed first Wales cap

Tommy Reffell is a former Wales Under-20s captain
Tommy Reffell is a former Wales Under-20s captain
South Africa v Wales - first Test
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria Date: Saturday, 2 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST
Coverage: Radio Wales commentary will be available on Radio Wales Extra, BBC Sport Online and 882 medium wave, Radio Cymru, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website

Uncapped Leicester Tigers flanker Tommy Reffell will make his Wales debut against South Africa in Saturday's opening Test in Pretoria.

Reffell, 23, will start in the back row alongside Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau.

Lydiate and Ospreys team-mate George North start after returning from long injury lay-offs.

Scrum-half Kieran Hardy starts while British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is named as a replacement.

Jones, 36, is joined on an experienced replacements bench by Ospreys duo Tomas Francis and Gareth Anscombe, and Cardiff pair Tomos Williams and Josh Navidi.

Tight-head prop Francis has been nursing a back injury with Dillon Lewis starting.

Head coach Wayne Pivac has made eight changes to the team defeated by Italy on the final day of the Six Nations in mid-March.

The players will wear black armbands on Saturday in honour of Wales international Phil Bennett, who died on 12 June.

The Pretoria game will begin the three-Test series and be followed by internationals in Bloemfontein and Cape Town.

New faces and returning experience

Reffell, who is preferred at open-side flanker in the Wales back row ahead of Navidi, linked up with the Wales squad fresh from helping Leicester win the English Premiership final against Saracens.

His Leicester team-mate Jasper Wiese will start at number eight for the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld.

"Tommy Reffell is a player we've been watching for some time now," said Pivac.

"He's been in very good form with Leicester Tigers and he's match fit - which is important with our squad not having played a lot of rugby recently.

"We think it's the right time for him and what a great debut to have at Loftus Versfeld."

Blind-side flanker Lydiate, 34, last played for Wales in the 2021 Six Nations opening match against Ireland in February 2021 when he picked up a serious knee injury that sidelined him for a year.

North also sustained a long-term knee problem in April 2021 that forced him out of the game for 12 months and meant him missing the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa last summer.

The 30-year-old returned at the end of the season for Ospreys and proved his fitness for the summer tour.

"Dan and George return for Wales and we're very pleased they're back after long layoffs," added Pivac.

"They've both worked very hard and were playing well at the time of their injuries, so it was disappointing for them to be out for so long.

"But to have them back, and the experience they bring, it's great for the group."

The selection is a new 19th back-row trio and 16th different centre partnership for Wales in 28 internationals.

Props Gareth Thomas and Dillon Lewis form the front row alongside hooker Ryan Elias.

Francis will begin the game on the bench alongside Rhys Carre with British and Irish Lions loose-head Wyn Jones not included.

Lock Will Rowlands returns to the starting side after Jones took his place in the Six Nations final day defeat against Italy in March. Rowlands partners Adam Beard.

Scarlets scrum-half Hardy is preferred to Tomos Williams and Gareth Davies and will partner captain and fly-half Dan Biggar.

North is joined by Saracens centre Nick Tompkins, while wings Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams and full-back Liam Williams form the back three.

Wales team to face South Africa: L Williams; Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Adams; Biggar (capt), Hardy; G Thomas, Elias, D Lewis, Rowlands, Beard, Lydiate, Reffell, Faletau.

Replacements: Lake, Carre, Francis, Alun Wyn Jones, Navidi, T Williams, Anscombe, Watkin.

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