Wales team to face Italy in Autumn Nations Cup

George North in action for Wales v Italy in 2020 Six Nations George North's last Wales start in the number 13 shirt was against Italy in February (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has made nine changes to the starting line-up for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup game against Italy.

Flanker Justin Tipuric, who missed the 24-13 loss to England last weekend because of a head knock, returns to the back row alongside James Botham and Taulupe Faletau.

Other switches include a start for George North at outside centre, with Callum Sheedy and Kieran Hardy named as half-backs.

Wing North’s last Wales start in the number 13 shirt was against Italy in February, when he helped his side to a 42-0 victory.

Pivac has selected a new front row of Nicky Smith, Sam Parry – who makes his first Test start – and Tomas Francis, with lock Will Rowlands replacing Jake Ball.

Botham retains his place and moves from openside to blindside flanker, accommodating Tipuric’s return, with one other change seeing a fit-again Liam Williams returning at full-back instead of Leigh Halfpenny.

Pivac said: “Saturday is another opportunity for these players, and for us as a squad it is another opportunity to continue to build and to see the results of all the hard work in training.

“We have blooded eight new caps this campaign, and importantly by the end of the match each of them would have had a number of appearances to their name.

“From the outset we wanted this campaign to be about giving players opportunity and we have done that.

“The hard work in training is coming through and we want to show that again on Saturday and finish the campaign on a high with the performance and result we want.”

Wales have won just two of their nine Tests since Pivac succeeded Warren Gatland last year, beating Italy and Georgia.

Pivac’s team announcement for the Italy game came 24 hours earlier than expected.

And it is an opportunity for players like Sheedy, Parry, Botham and Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit to continue encouraging progress shown during the autumn fixtures.

“Dan (fly-half Dan Biggar) played pretty well against England, and we know what he can do,” Pivac said.

“This game was going to be one where we continued the trend of giving guys opportunities.

“Callum went well against Georgia and this will be a step up. We are learning a lot about the players.”

Wales will again be without back-row forward Josh Navidi, who has been recovering from concussion and not featured in any of the autumn Tests, while flanker Ross Moriarty recently underwent ankle surgery and could be sidelined for eight weeks.

Pivac added: “He (Navidi) has been able to train for the last three weeks. It has just really been in the latter part of the week where he has just felt not quite himself, not 100 per cent, so we haven’t risked taking him to that last stage of going through the full contact.

“He will go back to regional rugby and hopefully he will get cleared to play in the next week or two and we will see him back on the field.

“We are improving slowly and I would not be surprised if we have a very good outing on the weekend.”

Wales team to play Italy

Forwards: 1 Nicky Smith (Ospreys), 2 Sam Parry (Ospreys), 3 Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), 4 Will Rowlands (Wasps), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (CAPTAIN, Ospreys), 6 James Botham (Cardiff Blues), 7 Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Bath)

Backs: 9 Kieran Hardy (Scarlets), 10 Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears), 11 Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester), 12 Johnny Williams (Scarlets), 13 George North (Ospreys), 14 Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues), 15 Liam Williams (Scarlets)

Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee (Dragons), 17 Wyn Jones (Scarlets), 18 Leon Brown (Dragons), 19 Cory Hill (Cardiff Blues), 20 Aaron Wainwright (Dragons), 21 Gareth Davies (Scarlets), 22 Ioan Lloyd (Bristol Bears), 23 Jonah Holmes (Dragons)

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