London: Regular captain Sam Warburton will return to Wales’ starting XV for the champions’ Six Nations international against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
The back-row forward, who began his comeback from a shoulder injury by coming off the bench against Italy in his team’s opening 23-15 victory over Italy at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium last weekend, replaced Justin Tipuric at openside flanker in the team announced by coach Warren Gatland on Tuesday.
The New Zealander made three changes in all to the side that took the field against the Azzurri, with second row Andrew Coombs replacing Luke Charteris, sidelined because of a hamstring injury, and 101-times capped prop Gethin Jenkins in for Paul James.
Warburton has regained the captaincy from Alun Wyn Jones, the lock who deputised as captain for the injured loose forward in the British and Irish Lions’ decisive third Test victory against Australia in Sydney last year.
Behind the scrum, Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny is set to win his 50th Wales cap aged just 25 in an unchanged back division.
Ireland, 28-6 winners over Scotland in Dublin last weekend, are due to name their side on Thursday.
In last season’s corresponding fixture, the Irish beat Wales 30-22 on the opening weekend in Cardiff, although the Welsh recovered to take the title.
Wales are now bidding to become the first side in the history of the Six Nations’ various guises to win three successive outright championships.
“It’s great to bring Sam and Gethin back into the side and it’s a good opportunity for Andrew Coombs to start as well,” said Gatland in a Welsh Rugby Union statement.
Wales were not at their best against a determined Italy but Gatland said he expected his side, who’ve gone two Six Nations without an away defeat, to improve on that performance at Lansdowne Road.
“Last weekend was a good hit out for a lot of reasons, but we still have things to work on and we know how important this game is,” said Gatland.
“We haven’t lost an away match in the Six Nations since 2011 and we have to have the belief and confidence that we can do it again this weekend.”
Former Ireland coach Gatland added: “It’s going to be tough, both sides won their opening game, we will have to be physical and take it to them.”
“We feel in most tournaments we get stronger as it goes on and that will need to be the case this weekend.”
Wales team to play Ireland
(15-1) Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate; Alun Wyn Jones, Andrew Coombs; Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins. Replacements: Ken Owens, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, James Hook, Liam Williams.