Hook to start at full-back for Wales

James Hook will start at full-back for Wales in Friday night's RBS 6 Nations opener against England at the Millennium Stadium.

And that means no place for his fellow British and Irish Lion Lee Byrne, who features among the replacements.



Wales coach Warren Gatland has paired Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies together in midfield, with Scarlets wing Morgan Stoddart waearing the number 14 shirt that was destined for Leigh Halfpenny until he suffered an ankle injury during training two days ago.



As expected, Ospreys props Paul James and Craig Mitchell fill the vacancies created by injured Lions Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, while Wasps' Andy Powell packs down at number eight.



Former Wales captain Ryan Jones and scrum-half Dwayne Peel join Byrne on the bench, where 62-times capped Jonathan Thomas provides back-row cover.



There are seven changes from Wales' autumn Test series finale against New Zealand in November, plus a positional switch as Hook moves from centre to full-back.



Roberts, meanwhile, returns after missing the entire autumn series through injury, and Wales' record try-scorer Shane Williams has recovered from a dislocated shoulder to win his 76th cap.



But Gatland's list of absentees comprises Halfpenny, Jenkins, Jones, George North, Tom Shanklin, Andrew Bishop and Richie Rees.



Wales will go into the England clash having lost six and drawn one of their last seven Tests. They have not won since the final weekend of last season's Six Nations tournament.



Assistant coach Rob Howley said: "In the front row we have two guys who have done well at regional level and know each other's games either side of our leader and the Lions hooker in Matthew Rees, so we are comfortable with the selection.



"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.



"Lee Byrne misses out solely by 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.



"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."

Wales team to play England in the RBS 6 Nations Championship in Cardiff on Friday:

J Hook (Ospreys); M Stoddart (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); P James (Ospreys), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), C Mitchell (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Wasps).



Replacements (tbc): R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), D Peel (Sale Sharks), R Priestland (Scarlets), L Byrne (Ospreys).

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