Tommy Reffell to make Wales bow against South Africa

Tommy Reffell playing for Leicester during the Gallagher Premiership match Tommy Reffell will make his Wales debut in Saturday's first Test against South Africa (Mike Egerton/PA)

Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell will make his Wales debut in Saturday’s Test series opener against world champions South Africa.

Bridgend-born Reffell, who helped Tigers win this season’s Gallagher Premiership title at Twickenham, will line up in Pretoria alongside back-row colleagues Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau.

Lydiate and centre George North return to international rugby after more than a year away from the Test match arena because of serious knee injuries.

And Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has opted for Will Rowlands and Adam Beard as the second-row partnership, meaning 150 times-capped Alun Wyn Jones is on the bench.

Jones is joined among the replacements by fellow British and Irish Lions player Josh Navidi, with Tomos Williams providing scrum-half cover for Kieran Hardy.

Hardy is elevated to the starting XV as captain Dan Biggar’s half-back partner, with North joined in midfield by Saracens’ Nick Tompkins.

But there is no place in Wales’ matchday 23 for wing Alex Cuthbert, who impressed during this season’s Guinness Six Nations Championship.

Lions Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams are the starting wings, while props Gareth Thomas and Dillon Lewis also feature.

On 23-year-old Reffell’s selection, Pivac said: “Tommy is a player we have been watching for some time now.

“He has been in very good form with Leicester Tigers, and he is match-fit, which is important with our squad not having played a lot of rugby recently.

“We think it is the right time for him, and what a great debut to have at Loftus Versfeld.

“Dan Lydiate and George North return, and we are very pleased they are back after long lay-offs.

“They have worked very hard and were playing well at the time of their injuries, so it was disappointing for them to be out for so long.

“But to have them back, and the experience they bring, it is great for the group.”

Wales have never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, losing all 10 previous encounters, and they tackle a three-Test series on the back of a shock home defeat against Italy.

Pivac added: “They’ve got a very big side and a six-two split on the bench.

“We don’t expect much change from the way they played against us previously, and it has been very effective for them. We are expecting a very tough game.”

Loftus Versfeld is a 50,000 sell-out on Saturday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be the first time South Africa have played in front of full home crowds since they won the World Cup in November 2019.

“This is our first tour away as a group, so it is fantastic for us,” Pivac said.

“The guys have had a good week’s build up, they have really enjoyed each other’s company and just being away in different surroundings.

“It is going to be a great atmosphere on Saturday, a great challenge and one we are looking forward to.”

The Wales players, meanwhile, will wear black armbands on Saturday in honour of former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Phil Bennett, who died earlier this month.

Wales team to play Springboks

Forwards: G Thomas (Ospreys), R Elias (Scarlets), D Lewis (Cardiff), W Rowlands (Dragons), A Beard (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Ospreys), T Reffell (Leicester), T Faletau (Cardiff)

Backs: L Williams (Cardiff), L Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), G North (Ospreys), N Tompkins (Saracens), J Adams (Cardiff); D Biggar (Northampton, CAPTAIN), K Hardy (Scarlets)

Replacements: D Lake (Ospreys), R Carre (Cardiff), T Francis (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), J Navidi (Cardiff), T Williams (Cardiff), G Anscombe (Ospreys), O Watkin (Ospreys)

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