By Paul Jones
George North has been told to answer the big question of what comes next at outside centre for Wales after Jonathan Davies.
The man looking for clues is Wales coach Wayne Pivac, who has named North at No.13, rather than on the wing, to face Italy on Saturday.
Davies has been injured since the defeat to Ireland three weeks ago and although Pivac said he could have played this weekend, the coach is anxious to examine long term options to replace a player who will be 33 in April.
Although he has been around with Wales for a decade, North is still only 28. The experiment of converting him to an outside centre has been tried before – under both Pivac and Warren Gatland – with mixed success.
But he will get another opportunity to show his versatility at Parc y Scarlets against the Italians after being dropped by Pivac earlier in the Autumn Nations campaign.
The head coach said it was “easy” to drop giant wing North at the start of the tournament after a lacklustre performance in a friendly with France.
“In the first game of the Six Nations we played George at centre against Italy,” Pivac said.
“We know Jonathan has had his fair share of injuries so really it’s about looking what’s behind him to take that role when he’s not there. George gets a go and we believe this is a time to get answers.”
North is one of nine changes made by Pivac for Italy from the defeat by England.
Rookie half-backs Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy make their second starts, hooker Sam Parry makes his first start, while James Botham continues on the flank.
Experienced Lions Liam Williams and Justin Tipuric return, but it is the redemption for North – dropped by Wales for the first time in his career this year – which is the main talking point.
“The conversation with George was simple – he’s just played no rugby. It’s little things like working off the ball and his reactions which just weren’t working for him,” Pivac added.
“He’s gone back to club rugby and had a game. We think playing him at 13 we’ll get him involved in the game early. Hopefully things will go well for him with his power and strength.
“He’s big and strong and in the England game during the Six Nations we had him firing pretty well.
“He’s going really well and we’re looking forward to seeing him out there this weekend. Nick Tompkins had an opportunity, now George gets a second go.”
Davies was available for selection, but not picked, whereas Josh Navidi still has concussion symptoms.
“This is probably not the strongest side possible when everyone is fit and available. But we are excited to see this side go out.”
Good seeing @George_North having an opportunity to show he’s got his mojo back. Like it or loathe it Pivac is giving opportunities in prep for next World Cup. So lets be patient in the transition – Never under estimate a team where the unassuming Stephen Jones is involved.Ymlaen
— Ian Davies (@Sooty10) December 3, 2020
“We have blooded eight new caps this campaign and importantly by the end of the match each of them would have had a number of appearances to their name.
“From the outset we wanted this campaign to be about giving players opportunity and we have done that.
“The hard work in training is coming through and we want to show that again on Saturday and finish the campaign on a high, with the performance and result we want.”
On the bench Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones and Leon Brown provide the front-row cover. Cory Hill and Aaron Wainwright complete the forward contingent. Gareth Davies, Ioan Lloyd and Jonah Holmes are named as the backline replacements.
WALES TEAM TO PLAY ITALY (Saturday December 5, KO 16.45.
- Nicky Smith (Ospreys) (37 Caps)
- Sam Parry (Ospreys) (3 Caps)
- Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (51 Caps)
- Will Rowlands (Wasps) (4 Caps)
- Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (142 Caps) (CAPT)
- James Botham (Cardiff Blues) (2 Caps)
- Justin Tipuric (Ospreys) (79 Caps)
- Taulupe Faletau (Bath) (80 Caps)
- Kieran Hardy (Scarlets) (1 Cap)
- Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears) (3 Caps)
- Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester) (3 Caps)
- Johnny Williams (Scarlets) (2 Caps)
- George North (Ospreys) (97 Caps)
- Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (29 Caps)
- Liam Williams (Scarlets) (66 Caps)
- Elliot Dee (Dragons) (32 Caps)
- Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (29 Caps)
- Leon Brown (Dragons) (11 Caps)
- Cory Hill (Cardiff Blues) (28 Caps)
- Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (26 Caps)
- Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (56 Caps)
- Ioan Lloyd (Bristol Bears) (1 Cap)
- Jonah Holmes (Dragons) (4 Caps)