Wales v France, Six Nations, March 17
Warburton returns to lead Wales
ESPNscrum Staff
March 15, 2012
Wales captain Sam Warburton leaves the field after his red card, France v Wales, Rugby World Cup, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, October 15, 2011
Sam Warburton's last meeting with France ended in disaster © Getty Images

Sam Warburton has recovered from a knee injury to lead Wales in Saturday's Grand Slam showdown with France in Cardiff.

The Cardiff Blues flanker replaces Justin Tipuric at openside in the only change to the starting side that battled past Italy, with the Ospreys back-rower missing out on a place in the 22 altogether.

Wales boss Warren Gatland has gambled on the fitness of his skipper and not included specialist openside cover among the replacements, where Ryan Jones deputises in the back-row and Luke Charteris provides back-up to locks Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans.

Warburton was sent-off the last time the teams met - in last year's Rugby World Cup semi-final at Eden Park.

Matthew Rees has been retained at hooker, seeing off the challenge of Scarlets team-mate Ken Owens to win his 50th cap, while props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones - as well as Ryan Jones - are in line to win a third Grand Slam if Wales can account for France.

The backline remains unchanged for the fifth successive game, although Lloyd Williams returns on the bench in place of Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb, who made his debut against Italy.

"In camp, all we can and must do is make preparations as normal," Gatland said. "The magnitude of the game is not lost on us, but it is irrelevant to how we prepare.

"We have our captain back, and although Justin Tipuric is unlucky after playing well in his place last week, Sam's presence is a welcome boost to everyone.

"We are obviously aware of what this game means to the fans, 60,000 of them came to the Millennium Stadium during the Rugby World Cup to watch us face France in the semi-final on the television screens, and that tells you everything about how dedicated they are.

"This weekend we play in front of a sell-out 74,500 crowd with a chance to make history in Cardiff, and they will be there to watch us in the flesh. They can make a real and positive contribution to the atmosphere and, like us, will be thinking of nothing other than the here and now."

Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons)

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets)

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