LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Wales have recalled winger George North and hooker Richard Hibbard for the Six Nations opener against England in Cardiff on Friday.
Coach Warren Gatland named his team on Monday, 48 hours ahead of schedule, and captain Sam Warburton will win his 50th international cap.
North starts instead of Liam Williams and Hibbard edges out Scott Baldwin, who played in the Welsh victory over South Africa in November.
“We decided to name the team early to give the players the best possible chance of preparation,” Gatland said in a Welsh Rugby Union statement.
”It was a tough call on the two changes we have made from the side that beat South Africa, but it’s good to have these and other tough selection decisions and it’s a strong position to be in.
“We are excited about kicking the tournament off on Friday against a strong England side in front of a packed Millennium Stadium.”
Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies continue their powerful centre partnership and Rhys Webb is again preferred to Mike Phillips at scrumhalf.
England are due to name their team on Wednesday.
Wales team - 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-George North, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Rhys Webb; 8-Toby Faletau, 7-Sam Warburton, 6-Dan Lydiate, 5-Alun-Wyn Jones, 4-Jake Ball, 3-Sampson Lee, 2-Richard Hibbard, 1-Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16-Scott Baldwin, 17-Paul James, 18-Aaron Jarvis, 19-Luke Charteris, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Mike Phillips, 22-Rhys Priestland, 23-Liam Williams.
Reporting by Ed Osmond, editing by Mitch Phillips