Captain Sam Warburton returns for Wales

 

Wales have received a huge boost for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations title and
Grand Slam clash against France in Cardiff after captain Sam Warburton
was declared fit.

Warburton will replace flanker Justin Tipuric as the only change following last weekend's victory over Italy.

Cardiff Blues star Warburton was sent off when the countries last met in a gripping World Cup semi-final at Auckland's Eden Park five months ago.

France triumphed 9-8, but they were outplayed by Wales for long periods of a game that saw them reduced to 14 men after just 18 minutes when Warburton was dismissed following a dangerous tackle on Les Bleus wing Vincent Clerc.

Warburton has played just 120 minutes' rugby in the Six Nations this season.

He was forced off at half-time during the opening weekend victory over Ireland due to a thigh injury, then sat out Scotland's Millennium Stadium visit before a knee problem suffered against England at Twickenham sidelined him for Italy.

But the 23-year-old's return is critical to a Wales team seeking coach Warren Gatland's second Six Nations title and Grand Slam of his four-year reign.

Prop Gethin Jenkins sees leadership duties passed back to Warburton, while hooker Matthew Rees, who missed the World Cup because of a neck injury that required surgery, wins his 50th cap.

The Wales back division, one that has scored all nine of Wales' Six Nations tries this term, is unchanged for a fifth successive Test match.

Tipuric, meanwhile, misses out on the match-day 22, with Wales' 2008 Grand Slam skipper Ryan Jones providing back-row cover, and scrum-half Lloyd Williams returns among the replacements instead of Rhys Webb, who made his Test debut against Italy.

Gatland's solidity in selection is underlined by the fact that 10 players in action on Saturday will start their fifth successive Six Nations game this term.

Gatland said: "In camp, all we can and must do is make preparations as normal.

"The magnitude of the game is not lost on us, but it is irrelevant to how we prepare.

"We have our captain back, and although Justin Tipuric is unlucky after playing well in his place last week, Sam's presence is a welcome boost to everyone.

""We are obviously aware of what this game means to the fans.

"60,000 of them came to the Millennium Stadium during the Rugby World Cup to watch us face France in the semi-final on the television screens, and that tells you everything about how dedicated they are.

"But this weekend we play in front of a sell-out 74,500 crowd with a chance to make history in Cardiff, and they will be there to watch us in the flesh.

"They can make a real and positive contribution to the atmosphere and, like us, will be thinking of nothing other than the here and now."

Wales team to play France in the RBS 6 Nations Championship in Cardiff on Saturday:

L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).

PA

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