Popham to start in place of Charvis

Wales have dropped flanker Colin Charvis for Saturday's Six Nations Championship clash against title favourites France in Cardiff. [more]

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Wales have dropped flanker Colin Charvis for Saturday’s Six Nations Championship clash against title favourites France in Cardiff.

The 84 times-capped Newcastle forward makes way in a restructured back row that sees skipper Michael Owen switched to replace Charvis at blindside flanker and Llanelli Scarlets’ Alix Popham wearing the number eight shirt.

Two other changes from the side held to a draw by Italy are both enforced due to injuries.

Wing Mark Jones, who underwent minor knee surgery on Tuesday, has seen his place filled by Dafydd James, with scrum-half Michael Phillips taking over from shoulder injury victim Dwayne Peel.

Bath’s Andy Williams will provide scrum-half cover for Phillips on the bench, while Dafydd Jones is called up following Popham’s promotion.

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Gavin Henson, meanwhile, remains among the substitutes as Wales look to end their miserable Six Nations campaign on a winning note.

Wales caretaker coach Scott Johnson insists Charvis has been "rested" – but it seems inconceivable the player would have been omitted from such a key Test match had he discovered anywhere near top form during recent weeks.

Form though, is not a problem for Popham, whose all-action display for Llanelli in their Powergen Cup semi-final victory over Bath gained him rave reviews.

"Colin Charvis is an experienced player who offers a lot to this squad, and we want to make sure we keep him around us this week, on Saturday and beyond," said Johnson, who will take charge of Wales for the final time if he accepts an offer to join Australia’s new-look national coaching team.

"But he has played a lot of rugby this season – the best part of 20-odd games already – missing just one match for Newcastle in the Premiership and featuring for us at international level throughout the campaign so far and in the Autumn.

"We are resting him, but he will remain part of the squad and we want him around to help lift the players.

"Alix deserves his chance to start, and we have gone for Dafydd (Jones) on the bench for the energy and impact he will be able to offer."

Wales must avoid defeat to be certain of avoiding the Six Nations wooden spoon just a year after being crowned Grand Slam champions, but even if they lose, Italy must still beat Scotland in Rome on Saturday to move off the bottom.

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