Wales coach Warren Gatland has left three Test British & Irish Lions out of his side for the Rugby World Cup Pool D opener against reigning champions South Africa in Wellington on Sunday.
With more than 220 caps between them, prop Gethin Jenkins, outside half Stephen Jones and No 8 Ryan Jones will all be kicking their heels in the stand when Sam Warburton leads Wales into action in Pool D. By contrast, John Smit will skipper the most experienced South African side in Springbok history, boasting 815 caps
Jenkins and the two Joneses have all been suffering from calf muscle problems in the build up to the 2011 tournament and Gatland has decided not to risk any of them. Stephen Jones is looking to play at his fourth World Cup, while 2008 Grand Slam skipper Ryan Jones is hoping to make his first appearance in the competition.
Without his experienced trio Gatland has reverted to virtually the same side that beat England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff three weeks ago. In fact, there are only three changes to the team that triumphed 19-9.
The Ospreys front row pair of Huw Bennett and Adam Jones come in to replace Dragons hooker Lloyd Burns and Exeter Chiefs bound Craig Mitchell. Burns is included among the replacements.
In the back line, Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies teams up once again with Jamie Roberts, a combination that was temporarily split up in that England match to accommodate the now injured Gavin Henson. Davies and Roberts were reunited a week later when Wales beat Argentina, 28-13, at the Millennium Stadium in their final World Cup warm-up match.
“We are looking to get our World Cup campaign off to a winning start,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland. “If you get the world champions in your pool you want to play them first up and throw everything you’ve got at them.
“We’ve got the toughest group in the competition, but we know if we can come through we will be in good shape. The players have done everything we have asked of them so far, they have worked incredibly hard.”
WALES: James Hook (Perpignan); George North (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Paul James (Ospreys), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Dragons), Sam Warburton (Blues, captain), Toby Faletau (Dragons)
REPLACEMENTS: Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Andy Powell (Sale Sharks), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Blues)