North starts at centre for Wales against Italy

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Wales will hand a debut to Scarlets back three player Johnny McNicholl as Wayne Pivac picks him on the wing in his first Six Nations matchday squad since taking over from Warren Gatland.

The 29-year-old is the only debutant in the starting XV, although there are a number of changes from the side we saw selected regularly at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Dillon Lewis has won the race to start at tighthead with Tomas Francis injured, making his first Six Nations start, while Jake Ball is the man given the nod to start alongside Alun Wyn Jones in the second row.

Aaron Wainwright is selected at blindside flanker with Josh Navidi injured, with Taulupe Faletau set to win his first cap since March 2018 as he starts at number eight.

For the second Six Nations in a row Tomos Williams starts at scrum-half, having won nine in round one against France last year, with the now familiar sight of Dan Biggar and Hadleigh Parkes lining up at 10 and 12.

Perhaps the most controversial selection is at outside centre though where George North holds off competition from Nick Tompkins to wear the 13 jersey, although he has scored eight tries in his last five games against Italy, with at least one try coming in each game.

On the bench there are selections for Ryan Elias, who will back up Ken Owens with Elliott Dee injured, while Leon Brown will cover tighthead ahead of WillGriff John.

Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty provide second and back row cover, respectively, while Rhys Webb is the reserve scrum-half with Gareth Davies believed to be injured. The 31-year-old would be winning his first Wales cap since December 2017 if he comes on.

Jarrod Evans covers fly-half while Nick Tompkins would be a second debutant on the day if he comes off the bench. The 24-year-old Saracens man is eligible through his Welsh Grandmother and was not tied to England after playing for their Saxons side.

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, George North, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Ross Moriarty, Rhys Webb, Jarrod Evans, Nick Tompkins

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