Wales switch James Hook to centre

James Hook will start in his third different position of this year's RBS 6 Nations Championship when Wales face Italy on Saturday.

Hook, full-back against England and then fly-half when Wales beat Scotland 10 days ago, moves to centre as replacement for the injured Jonathan Davies.

Hook wins his 50th cap, lining up alongside Jamie Roberts in midfield, while Stephen Jones returns at fly-half, making a 98th Test match appearance.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has otherwise retained the team on duty at Murrayfield, although fit-again Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny gains a place among the substitutes.

Davies has not recovered from a hamstring injury suffered during the Scotland game, a match when Hook ran proceedings for Wales as they built a sizeable early lead before running out 24-6 victors.

It was Wales' first success in nine Tests, but the versatile Hook was always going to be Gatland's strongest centre option once Davies lost his fitness race.

Hook will feature at outside centre, which coupled with Jones' return are the only changes, a situation in stark contrast to 2009 at Stadio Flaminio when a team showing showing nine alterations ground out an uninspiring 20-15 success.

"We have selected the strongest possible side, showing the utmost respect to Italy," said head coach Gatland.

"We know only too well what tough opponents they are in Rome and so we have picked the strongest team available to us."

Wales attack coach Rob Howley is backing the forwards to continue their impressive form in the Rome match.

Howley said: "This is very much a vote of confidence for the forwards, they have been going extremely well as a unit and we are looking for more of the same against Italy.

"Our hand has been forced in the back line, Jonathan is simply not ready this weekend after struggling with his hamstring since the Scotland game.

"The obvious decision then is to move James (Hook) into the centre where he has done well in partnership with Jamie (Roberts).

"And bringing Stephen (Jones) in at fly-half is a great luxury to have. He was hurting after the England game, he will be looking forward to getting back out there and we are very happy to have that option available to us.

"James wins his 50th cap and we all know what a valuable player he is to this team and what a great servant he has been to Welsh rugby already at just 26 years of age."

Howley expects Wales to face strong resistance from the Italians, who were drubbed 59-13 by England at Twickenham in their last outing, having almost beaten Ireland in their opening match.

"Italy are a different animal at home, they showed that against Ireland," said Howley.

"Since the inception of Italy as a part of the Six Nations they have continued to improve year on year and they are always capable of turning you over.

"We are under no illusion as to how tough it is going to be for us out there on Saturday, history shows us that it is going to be a very hard day at the office, but we have picked a side to go out there and win."

Wales team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations match against Italy in Rome:

LL Byrne (Ospreys); M Stoddart (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), 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), R Jones (Ospreys).

Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), J Turnbull (Scarlets), T Knoyle (Scarlets), R Priestland (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues).

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