British & Irish Lions

North is Wales' centre of attention against Italy

George North (Getty Images)
George North (Getty Images)

Cardiff - George North has been moved to centre for Wales' Six Nations opener at home to Italy on Saturday.

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Best known as a powerhouse wing, North slots into midfield to replace injured centre Jonathan Davies for what will be new coach Wayne Pivac's first full international in charge.

North will be winning his 92nd Wales cap this weekend but making only his fifth start at centre.

"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," said Pivac.

The coach has also given a Test debut to Scarlets wing Johnny McNicholl.

New Zealand-born McNicholl, 29, qualifies on residency and scored a try during the non-cap game victory over the Barbarians in November -- Pivac's first fixture of any kind as Wales coach.

"I thought he (McNicholl) played really well against the Barbarians," added the coach, who resisted the temptation to call-up uncapped teenage wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who has been starring for Gloucester in the English Premiership this season.

Fit-again No 8 Taulupe Faletau returns for the reigning Grand Slam champions after missing the run to the semi-finals of last year's World Cup with a collarbone injury.

Saracens centre Nick Tompkins, qualifies through his Wrexham-born grandmother, could make his debut off the bench after being included among the replacements.

Former Scarlets boss Pivac has succeeded Warren Gatland after his fellow New Zealander stood down following the World Cup.

Italy too have a new coach in caretaker boss Franco Smith.

The South African has recalled Leonardo Sarto for the wing's first Test since 2017.

Matteo Minozzi returns at fullback having missed last year's Six Nations after being nominated for player of the tournament in 2018 following several impressive displays.

Former captain Sergio Parisse was not in the squad, with hooker Luca Bigi having previously been confirmed as Italy's new skipper.

Italy have lost their last 22 matches in the Six Nations, a run of defeats stretching back to 2015.

Smith, however, insisted: "We know our potential and what we can give.

"I have faith in the team and can't wait to see them on the pitch against Wales."

Teams:

Wales

15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 George North, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 1- 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

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

Italy

15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Niccolo Cannone, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Giosue Zilochhi, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti

Substitutes: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Dean Budd, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Giovanni Licata, 22 Guglielmo Palazzami, 23 Jayden Hayward

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