January 30, 2020 / 12:11 PM / 25 days ago

Wing McNicholl to debut for Wales in Six Nations opener

(Reuters) - New Zealand-born wing Johnny McNicholl will earn a first cap for defending champions Wales after being named by new coach Wayne Pivac in the starting lineup for their Six Nations opener against Italy at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Rugby Union - Wales v Barbarians - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - November 30, 2019 Wales head coach Wayne Pivac before the match REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

McNicholl, 29, scored a try for the Welsh in a 44-33 victory over the Barbarians in November, but that was an uncapped international and he will play his first official fixture against the Italians.

His selection means George North stays at outside centre, with the rest of the back three made up of fullback Leigh Halfpenny and wing Josh Adams.

“It is great for Johnny McNicholl to get his first cap, I thought he played really well against the Barbarians so it is a great opportunity for him this weekend,” Pivac said in a media release from Welsh Rugby on Thursday.

“George has had a number of games in the midfield for Wales and more recently for the Ospreys and he has been running there in training. We have been impressed with him there and he is excited by the opportunity.”

Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar line up as the half-back pairing, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and number eight Taulupe Faletau make up the back row of the scrum, with captain Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball occupying the lock positions.

Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis and hooker Ken Owens make up the front row.

“We’ve had a couple of injuries, Josh Navidi picked up a hamstring injury so he is out for a few weeks, while Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Gareth Davies and Elliot Dee weren’t quite ready to be available for selection,” Pivac said.

Former England junior international centre Nick Tompkins has been named among the replacements and could earn his first cap for Wales after qualifying through his Wrexham-born grandmother.

The match is a first official test in charge for Pivac, who took over from fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland after the latter left following the World Cup in Japan having spent 12 years at the helm.

Team: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Johnny McNicholl, 13-George North, 12-Hadleigh Parkes, 11-Josh Adams, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Tomos Williams, 8-Taulupe Faletau, 7-Justin Tipuric, 6-Aaron Wainwright, 5-Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4-Jake Ball, 3-Dillon Lewis, 2-Ken Owens, 1-Wyn Jones.

Replacements: 16-Ryan Elias, 17-Rob Evans, 18-Leon Brown, 19-Cory Hill, 20-Ross Moriarty, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-Jarrod Evans, 23-Nick Tompkins.

Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis

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