Sam Warburton, the Wales captain, fears he could miss the rest of his country's Grand Slam quest after being ruled out of Saturday's game against Italy in Cardiff. Warburton failed to recover from a knee ligament injury suffered during the victory over England at Twickenham 11 days ago.
The flanker now faces a race against time to play in what could be a Six Nations title decider against France on 17 March. Warburton said: "I don't know about next week. I hope so, because I'm desperate to play. I'm gutted to miss out on playing at the Millennium Stadium for the second time in this Six Nations."
Warburton will be particularly eager to settle a personal score with Les Bleus following his controversial red card against them in the World Cup semi-final five months ago. Justin Tipuric, 21, of the Ospreys, will make his first start at Test level when he deputises for the captain on Saturday.
However, Warburton will be encouraged by the recovery of centre Jamie Roberts from a similar injury to face the Azzurri in Cardiff. The Wales coach, Warren Gatland, said: "Initially Jamie was a big concern but he has fronted-up in training and there are no doubts over his fitness."
Hooker Matthew Rees makes his first appearance of the tournament after recovering from a calf injury and will form an all-Lions front-row with Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, the new captain. Jenkins said: "It's great to add Matthew's experience to a young team that is full of confidence."
Wales L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North; R Priestland, M Phillips; G Jenkins (capt), M Rees, A Jones, AW Jones, I Evans, D Lydiate, T Faletau, J Tipuric. Replacements K Owens, P James, L Charteris, R Jones, L Williams, JHook, S Williams.