Scotland v Wales, Six Nations Championship, February 8
Phillips set for international return
February 6, 2009
Scrum-half Mike Phillips has been recalled by Wales boss Warren Gatland © Getty Images
Wales boss Warren Gatland has recalled Ospreys' Mike Phillips to his starting-line-up for their Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Phillips, who has not played for Wales since last season's Grand Slam-clinching victory over France in Cardiff, returns at scrum-half while Cardiff Blues youngster Leigh Halfpenny makes his championship debut on the wing. Ospreys centre Gavin Henson was also set for an international return but his injury curse stuck again in the build up with calf strain ruling him out.
Gatland originally opted to make three changes to the side which defeated Australia 21-18 in November - all behind the scrum. Henson would have replaced Tom Shanklin but instead the Blues centre retains his place in the side while Phillips takes over from an injured Gareth Cooper, who was due to undergo minor knee surgery today.
Gloucester star Cooper is expected to be sidelined for a fortnight, meaning could also miss the Millennium Stadium appointment with England on Saturday week. The 20-year-old Halfpenny starts with Mark Jones still recovering from appendix surgery.
Fit-again Ospreys hooker Huw Bennett is on the bench, where his colleagues will include Sale Sharks scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who was initially omitted from Gatland's 28-man Six Nations squad but then called up when Cooper succumbed to injury.
The starting XV features five survivors from Wales' last Murrayfield trip two years ago which resulted in a 21-9 defeat - captain Ryan Jones, fly-half Stephen Jones, prop Adam Jones, lock Alun-Wyn Jones and flanker Martyn Williams.
Gatland said, "We have tried to select on form and are particularly keen to get a look at the partnership in midfield of Gavin Henson and Jamie Roberts, which we have been able to select for the first time. But we have had close calls to make throughout the squad, and selection is always down to a matter of opinion. Now we wait and see if these players selected can prove those options correct.
"Teams have gone to Scotland in the past and been over-confident and expected a result. But the Scots will be looking forward to taking us on, and if we take the challenge lightly we will be playing straight into their hands. They are a much-improved outfit over the last 12 months, and they have the talent and the ability to turn teams over."
Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross has been handed his Scotland debut by coach Frank Hadden. Northampton star Murray (rib) has been unable to train all week and did not make the 22 for Sunday's clash at Murrayfield. Perpignan lock Nathan Hines (knee) is also injured, meaning Sale's Jason White - nominally a flanker - will start in the second row.
There is no place in the side for record points-scorer Chris Paterson, who is on the bench. Edinburgh team-mate Hugo Southwell starts at fullback instead.
Simon Webster keeps his place on the right wing, with Glasgow's Thom Evans not even making the 22. Head coach Frank Hadden said: "I have been referring recently to the growing strength in depth of the Scotland squad. The quality of the side we've chosen to play Wales is an excellent example of that."
Of Cross' selection at tight-head in an all-Edinburgh front row, Hadden added: "Geoff first joined the squad during our tour of Argentina last summer, and we have every confidence in him. Having waited patiently through five games, it's great that he now has this opportunity."
Of Murray and Hines' unavailability, team doctor James Robson said, "They continue to make slow but steady progress. It's too early at this stage to give an accurate prognosis of whether they will be available for selection next week."
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Webster (Edinburgh), B Cairns (Edinburgh), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); P Godman, M Blair (capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), G Cross (Edinburgh), J White (Sale), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Stade Francais), J Barclay (Glasgow).
Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), A Dickinson (Gloucester), K Brown (Glasgow), S Gray (Northampton), C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Edinburgh), M Evans (Glasgow).
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)
Assistant referees: C. White, R. Debney
Television Match Official: G. Warren