Warburton retains Wales captaincy
November 20, 2011
Sam Warburton has not played for Wales since being sent-off against France in the World Cup semi final © Getty Images
Sam Warburton will continue to captain Wales after being named as skipper for their one-off international against Australia at the Millennium stadium on December 3.
The 22-year-old, who was controversially sent off in the Rugby World Cup semi final against France, won plaudits for his performances and leadership on and off the field as Wales finished fourth place in the tournament after original skipper Matthew Rees withdrew from the squad with a neck injury. The Scarlets hooker returns to the squad but Warren Gatland has decided to keep Warburton as captain, suggesting that the Cardiff Blues flanker will skipper Wales in the 2012 Six Nations and beyond.
The notable absentee from coach Gatland's 28-man squad is Scarlets fly-half Stephen Jones. Jones, who has won a record 104 Wales caps, does not feature, with Gatland recalling Ospreys No.10 Dan Biggar as a fly-half option alongside Rhys Priestland.
None of Wales' overseas-based contingent, notably French club players James Hook, Mike Phillips and Lee Byrne, were made available for selection. Because the December 3 Millennium Stadium encounter falls outside the International Rugby Board-recognised Test match window, the clubs were under no obligation to release them.
While speculation will inevitably intensify that 33-year-old Jones is at the end of his international career, wing Shane Williams is set for one final game before Test match retirement. Williams, Wales' record Test try-scorer with 57 touchdowns, has said he will step down from the Test arena after the Australia game.
Biggar and Ospreys lock Ian Evans return to the international fold - Biggar has not played for Wales since a 16-16 draw against Fiji last November - while Gatland has also called up three uncapped players in Scarlets full-back Liam Williams, Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert and Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Lewis Evans.
Centre Jamie Roberts, prop Adam Jones, lock Luke Charteris and flanker Dan Lydiate are all included despite suffering injuries in recent weeks.
"As we have gone with the majority of our Rugby World Cup squad we have maintained continuity by selecting Sam again as captain for this game," Gatland said. "But it is a significant boost for us to have someone of the experience and stature of Matthew Rees back in the squad which, in turn, means there is considerable competition in the hooker's position with both Huw Bennett and Lloyd Burns also with us.
"The fans have a chance to show the players how proud they are of them after their World Cup performances and it should be quite an occasion at the Millennium Stadium, especially with the Shane Williams factor thrown in.
"But we won't be sitting back and soaking up the atmosphere - Shane will want to go out in style and this squad wants to, and needs to, get back to winning ways.
"We have another chance to beat a Southern Hemisphere team, which is always a yardstick by which we measure ourselves, we have the opportunity to avenge the play-off defeat in New Zealand, but we can also send a message to our Six Nations opponents next year
"Our World Cup performances should not be seen in isolation and this young squad will continue to be a force to be reckoned with as we build to the next world cup in 2015."
Wales squad to face Australia on December 3:
Forwards: Scott Andrews, Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Lloyd Burns, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Ian Evans, Lewis Evans, Toby Faletau, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones, Danny Lydiate, Matthew Rees, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton (Captain)
Backs: Dan Biggar, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Tavis Knoyle, George North, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Lloyd Williams, Scott Williams, Shane Williams.
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