Six Nations 2015: Sam Warburton to lead Wales as Warren Gatland names side to face England 48 hours early

George North and Richard Hibbard return to the starting XV after missing the 12-6 autumn international victory over South Africa

Wales star George North has been told that there is "a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform" in Friday night's blockbusting RBS Six Nations opener against England at the Millennium Stadium.

The powerhouse Northampton wing returns to international duty after missing Wales' victory over South Africa in November because of concussion.

But the 22-year-old, who has scored 19 tries in 45 Tests for Wales, will be under a fierce spotlight.

North replaces in-form Scarlets back Liam Williams, who has to be content with a place on the bench, while one other change following the 12-6 Springboks success sees Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard returning instead of Scott Baldwin.

Hibbard was unavailable to face South Africa as that game fell outside the recognised autumn Test window and he had to return to his club.

George-North.jpg
George North returns after missing the win over South Africa

"We had a good chat to George," Wales head coach Warren Gatland said.

"We don't think he has played that well in the Welsh jersey in the last few games, so there is a lot of pressure and expectation on him to perform.

"But one of the things he has done for Wales is that he has scored tries, and he continues to do that for his club as well.

"He does have that X-factor. We are looking for a big performance from him on Friday night.

"We are looking for him to get a lot of touches, get his hands on the ball and a high work-rate, and if he gets lots of touches and his work-rate is high, he will create something, and that is what we are looking for from him.

"You look at every situation differently, and we are giving him that opportunity to go out there, telling him that a couple of his performances haven't been as good as they can be, and just what the expectations are for him."

North will arrive in this season's Six Nations on the back of a prolific campaign with Northampton, having scored 12 tries from 15 appearances in the Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup.

He has already posted four more touchdowns for Saints this term than he did during the whole of last season.

Gatland effectively sprung the first surprise of this season's Six Nations on Monday by naming his team to face England 48 hours early.

And it contained no surprises as Wales prepare for a World Cup dress rehearsal against opponents they crushed by a record 30-3 scoreline the last time England visited Cardiff two years ago.

There are 11 starting line-up survivors from two years ago when Wales put England to the sword, with the likes of skipper Sam Warburton, who wins his 50th cap, North, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert - a two-try star of that game - all back for more.

Gatland added: "We told the players (the team) this morning.

"What normally happens in Wales is that when the players know, it doesn't take long for reporters to ring around and it is in the paper tomorrow. We were looking to stop any of that speculation.

"It wasn't the hardest team in the world to pick.

"There are no injuries and everyone has trained this morning, which is good. Once we had told the players, it's just easy enough to announce the team publicly.

"We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation.

"It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa. But it is good to have these and other tough selection decisions, and it's a strong position to be in."

While England have been racked by injury worries, and there remains considerable debate about what midfield selection head coach Stuart Lancaster will select, Wales have a settled look about them.

Gatland's squad is injury-free by comparison, and there can be little doubt that a Monday team announcement has confirmed a rude state of health.

Wales team to play England at the Millennium Stadium on Friday:

L Halfpenny (Toulon); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Clermont Auvergne), J Roberts (Racing Metro), G North (Northampton); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Gloucester), S Lee (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: S Baldwin (Ospreys), P James (Bath), A Jarvis (Ospreys), L Charteris (Racing Metro), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), R Priestland (Scarlets), L Williams (Scarlets).

PA

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