Leigh Halfpenny is set to start for Wales in the Six Nations opener against Ireland on Saturday as Liam Williams missed out.

Halfpenny has been given the nod at full-back for the first match of Warren Gatland's second spell as Wales head coach at the Principality Stadium.

The 35-year-old will be monitored after sitting out training on Tuesday morning due to a hip issue, but is in line to make his first international start since 2021.

Williams will play no part in Cardiff this weekend as he builds up his fitness after being sidelined by injuries.

Centre Joe Hawkins will make his Six Nations debut at inside centre partnering George North in midfield after making his Test bow against Australia last year.

Dan Biggar returns at fly-half, with Tomos Williams starting at scrum-half against the top-ranked side in the world. 

Asked about Halfpenny's selection and the absence of Liam Williams, Gatland said: "He [Williams] trained today.

"Leigh Halfpenny has a little bit of a tight hip, so we kept him out of this morning's session. He'll train this afternoon so just making sure he didn't double up on that.

"Liam hasn't had a lot of rugby. He had the knock and then the finger injury, so he didn't take part in training last week. We just want to give him some more training time with the team.

"Obviously, if something does happen to Leigh, we'll make a decision with what happens to that. We had everyone fit and available for selection, but we had some players with bumps and knocks who didn't take part in training last week.

"That was some of our thinking there. We just want some more training time under his belt. There's no doubt Liam will feature at some point."

 

Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Rhys Webb, Owen Williams, Alex Cuthbert.

Uncapped hooker Tom Stewart has been called up to the Ireland squad ahead of their Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.

Stewart has joined up with the squad in Portugal after Ronan Kelleher sustained a hamstring injury.

Ulster forward Stewart will provide cover while Kelleher is assessed as the top-ranked team in the world prepare to face Wales at the Principality Stadium this weekend.

Former Under-20 international Stewart played for Emerging Ireland in wins over the Griquas and the Cheetahs last year.

He was also involved in preparations for a clash between Ireland 'A' and an All Blacks XV two months ago.

Andy Farrell's side will continue to train in the in Quinta do Lago before flying to Cardiff two days before locking horns with Warren Gatland's men in the first match of the tournament.

Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw have been omitted from Ireland's Six Nations squad but the uncapped Jamie Osborne has been included.

Carbery has been seen as the long-term successor to fly-half Johnny Sexton, who will retire after the Rugby World Cup in France this year.

There is no place for the Munster number 10 in Andy Farrell's 37-man Six Nations squad, though, as Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley were given the nod as back-ups to captain Sexton.

Centre Henshaw has endured an injury-hit season and is currently sidelined with a wrist problem, so he was overlooked by head coach Farrell.

Fellow centre Osborne, 21, is the only uncapped player in the squad as the top-ranked team in the world target a first Six Nations title in five years.

Ireland start the tournament with a trip to the Principality Stadium for Warren Gatland's first game since returning for a second spell as Wales head coach on February 4.

Farrell said: "The Six Nations is a huge competition for us and another opportunity for us to grow as a group. 2022 was a busy year as we got to work with a larger group of players as we continued to build our squad depth and competition for places.

"While there are a few players carrying knocks and others that have missed out on selection for the start of the tournament, they will have the opportunity to push their case playing for their provinces in the URC over the coming weeks as no doubt we will need to call upon the wider group as the tournament progresses."

 

Ireland squad:

Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Gavin Coombes, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Joe McCarthy, Peter O'Mahony, Tom O'Toole, Andrew Porter, Cian Prendergast, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier.

Backs: Bundee Aki, Ross Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Keith Earls, Jamison Gibson Park, Mack Hansen, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Jimmy O’Brien, Jamie Osborne, Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton (captain), Jacob Stockdale.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is "quite confident" he will be fit for the start of the Six Nations after undergoing surgery on his cheekbone.

The fly-half went under the knife this week to repair damage done during Leinster's United Rugby Championship clash with Connacht last Sunday.

Sexton's injury blow raised concerns over his participation in the Six Nations, but former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman spoke to the number 10 after his procedure and revealed he should be ready to face Wales at the Principality Stadium on February 4.

"Sexton is quite confident he is going to be back for the first round," said Jackman.

He added: "He didn't have to get wired - it was a simpler procedure than we all feared.

"He is due back in four weeks so should be back for the first game against Wales which will be a huge boost for Ireland - he is delighted."

Sexton will retire after the Rugby World Cup in France this year, so this will be his last Six Nations.

Johnny Sexton might face a race to be fit in time to feature in the Six Nations after it was confirmed he will undergo surgery on a facial injury.

The captain, who has played for his country 109 times, is set to retire after the World Cup in France later this year.

That means the upcoming Six Nations campaign, which Ireland start with a trip to face Wales on February 4, will be his last.

However, the 37-year-old fly-half's participation is in doubt after he suffered a cheekbone injury during Leinster's United Rugby Championship clash with Connacht on Sunday.

Leinster confirmed Sexton was due to have a procedure on Tuesday and will be assessed further following the operation.

Ireland are top of the world rankings and finished second in last year's Six Nations, four points behind champions France.

After facing Wales, they take on France in Dublin before travelling to Italy on February 25.

Andy Farrell's team play Scotland on March 12 and round off their Six Nations campaign against England six days later.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says Ireland counterpart Andy Farrell is the only real contender to lead the British and Irish Lions on their tour to Australia in 2025.

Gatland was in charge of the Lions on consecutive tours in 2013, 2017 and 2021.

The 59-year-old's shock return as Wales boss last week means he may now be in the running for the next tour in two and a half years' time.

However, Gatland believes on current credentials, Farrell is perfectly suited for the role following his impressive work with Ireland.

"If you are picking a Lions coach at the moment, there is only one person that I think is in contention," he told reporters. "He is across the water and living in Dublin at the minute. 

"If you are successful, those opportunities come along. I hadn't even thought about [the Lions tour]. I am just thinking about the next 10 months.

"I am well aware of how important the Six Nations and World Cup are next year.

"I don't plan my pathway. I am a believer of if you are in the right place at the right time, then opportunities come along. What will be, will be."

Farrell oversaw a historic Test series triumph against New Zealand in July and then added the scalps of South Africa and Australia in November.

Ireland are top of the world rankings, whereas Wales are down in ninth on the back of a poor year that led to the dismissal of Wayne Pivac.

Gatland has been tasked with turning things around in his second spell at the helm, with a showdown against Ireland first up in Wales' 2023 Six Nations opener on February 4.

"Facing them first is probably good, as they are the best team in the world, and rightly so," Gatland said.

"Getting them first up at home is not the worst thing. It's a tournament of momentum. You win your first game and you've got a good chance of doing well.

"To get them first up, it's probably the one game you want at home – playing against the best team where there is probably a bit more pressure on them.

"I think we will be pretty excited about getting ready for the game."

Ireland's Josh van der Flier has been named men's World Rugby Player of the Year, while New Zealand duo Ruahei Demant and Wayne Smith both scooped another big prize.

The Leinster flanker was presented with the prestigious award in Monaco on Sunday after playing a huge part in Ireland's rise to the top of the rankings.

Van der Flier beat off competition from France scrum-half Antoine Dupont, winner of the award last year, South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am and his Ireland team-mate Johnny Sexton to land the gong.

The 29-year-old has been outstanding in a memorable year for Ireland, who secured a historic maiden series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.

He is the third Irishman to win the award after Keith Wood in 2001 and Sexton four years ago.

Co-captain Demant was named women's World Rugby Player of the Year following New Zealand's World Cup triumph on home soil.

Demant's team-mate Portia Woodman, England's Alex Matthews, Sophie de Goede of Canada and France's Laure Sansus were also on the shortlist.

Smith was presented with the Coach of the Year award following the Black Ferns' win over England.

Ireland men's head coach Andy Farrell, France men's head coach Fabien Galthie and England women's boss Simon Middleton missed out on that honour to Smith.

A late penalty from Ross Byrne gave Ireland a 13-10 victory against Australia, as their 12th home win in a row came despite the absence of captain Johnny Sexton.

The fly-half was removed from the starting line-up just minutes before kick-off due to injury, but the hosts emerged triumphant from a low-scoring affair.

An early Nic White try for Australia was disallowed by the TMO for a neck roll, with a Jack Crowley penalty sending Ireland into the break with a 3-0 advantage after Bernard Foley was guilty of missing a kick of his own.

The second half began in similar low-scoring fashion, Jamison Gibson-Park seeing an Irish try disallowed as Mack Hansen's foot was in touch before his pass, with Foley then levelling the scores with a penalty.

A first try finally came in the 67th minute, with Bundee Aki going over on his return from an eight-game suspension, but the visitors responded five minutes later through Jordan Petaia.

Three minutes from the end, Byrne kept his nerve from 45 metres to split the posts and seal the win for the hosts.

Johnny Sexton is fit enough to captain Ireland for their final Autumn Nations Series Test in Dublin on Saturday against a much-changed Australia, who are looking to hit back from a shock loss to Italy.

Sexton suffered a dead leg in the victory over South Africa earlier this month and did not feature in last weekend's 35-17 triumph over Fiji.

But the fly-half returns to the team for the match against Australia in one of seven alterations from that Fiji win, as the likes of Hugo Keenan, Josh van der Flier and Peter O'Mahony start.

Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan return to the front row, while James Ryan comes into the second row.

Ireland will be without Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw, who both miss out through injury.

Australia are hoping to bounce back from their first ever defeat to Italy last weekend, from which just four starters remain.

Mark Nawaqanitawase and Tom Wright stay on the wings, but James Slipper returns to captain in what will be his 126th Test.

Andrew Kellaway starts at fullback, as Dave Rennie opts to keep the centre pairing of Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau, while Allan Alaalatoa continues in the front row.

Ireland team: Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O'Brien, Jonny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Joe McCarthy, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Bundee Aki.

Australia team: Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Tom Wright, Bernard Foley, Nic White; James Slipper (captain), David Porecki, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Rob Valentini.

Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Tom Robertson, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Jordan Petaia.

Ireland will be without Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery in their final Autumn Nations Series Test against Australia on Saturday.

Centre Henshaw suffered a hamstring injury during a 35-17 win over Fiji last weekend and will continue his rehabilitation at Leinster.

Carbery was replaced early in the second half of that victory at the Aviva Stadium with a head injury and the fly-half will complete the return to play protocols with Munster.

Johnny Sexton, James Ryan, Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier and Hugo Keenan will be monitored ahead of the clash with the Wallabies in Dublin after sustaining knocks in the win over South Africa.

Jimmy O'Brien will complete the head injury assessment [HIA] process on Monday and is expected to be back in training on Tuesday.

Joe McCarthy has got through the HIA process and is back in the fold along with Bundee Aki, who has completed a suspension.

Meanwhile, Ireland boss Andy Farrell was on Monday shortlisted for the World Rugby Coach of the Year award after guiding the team to the top of the rankings.

Fabien Galthie, the France head coach, New Zealand women's head coach Wayne Smith and England Women's head coach Simon Middleton are the other contenders for the gong.

Conor Murray will miss the remainder of Ireland's Autumn Nations Series campaign after sustaining a groin strain in Saturday's 19-16 win over South Africa.

Murray saw his 100th cap end in disappointing fashion when he was forced off in the first half in Dublin, but Ireland handled his absence admirably to seal a 10th consecutive home triumph.

On Monday, a squad update issued by the world's top-ranked side revealed Murray was to return to Munster to undergo rehabilitation and would play no part in Saturday's meeting with Fiji.

Stuart McCloskey and Tadhg Furlong joined the scrum-half in making an early exit against the Springboks, but both are expected to take part in training this week.

Captain Johnny Sexton is also said to be "recovering well" after suffering a dead leg, while Leinster's Robbie Henshaw is set to return this week after missing the South Africa fixture due to a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Ulster lock Iain Henderson has returned to Andy Farrell's squad, and uncapped Leinster prop Michael Milne has also been called up.

Ireland are just two home victories away from matching the longest such winning streak in their history (12 between November 2016 and November 2018) and welcome both Fiji and Australia to the Aviva Stadium before the end of November. 

An impressive second-half performance from Ireland yielded a 19-16 victory against world champions South Africa at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Ireland made it 10 consecutive home wins for only the second time in their history, having won 12 in a row between November 2016 and November 2018.

Johnny Sexton and Damian Willemse exchanged early penalties before Cheslin Kolbe was shown a yellow card for a tip tackle on Mack Hansen, but the hosts could not take advantage as a tight first half ended 6-6. 

The contest burst into life after that though as two well-worked tries early in the second half down the left from Josh van der Flier and Hansen gave Ireland a 10-point lead as they looked to overwhelm the visitors.

South Africa responded with 14 minutes remaining as Franco Mostert was able to force the ball over for a try after some sustained pressure, though another Sexton penalty looked to have sealed things for Andy Farrell's side.

Kurt-Lee Arendse nipped in down the South Africa left for their second try with four minutes remaining to cut the deficit to three points and test the nerves in Dublin, but Ireland were able to hold on to make it a perfect 10 on home soil.

New Zealand earned a 35-run win over Ireland to move into prime position for a spot in the T20 World Cup semi-finals.

The result sends the Black Caps top of Group 1 and, although England and Australia can both move level on seven points, Kane Williamson's men are in a position of strength due to their superior net run rate.

It was captain Williamson's 61 from 35 balls that set the tone for his side's innings of 185-6, with Josh Little (3-22) the pick of Ireland's bowlers as he claimed a hat-trick in the 19th over.

Still, there was little the underdogs could do to limit the damage, as Finn Allen (32), Devon Conway (28) and Daryl Mitchell (31 not out) also made valuable contributions.

Ireland, who stunned pre-tournament favourites England earlier in the Super 12s, were 68 without loss in reply at one stage but crumbled to 150-9 in the face of a fine New Zealand bowling attack and are now out of the competition. 

Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi accounted for Ireland's top four between them and there was scant resistance lower down the order, with George Dockrell's 23-run cameo ended by the impressive Lockie Ferguson (3-22).

 

Williamson leads by example

Skipper Williamson was back to his best for New Zealand with an aggressive knock that included five fours and three maximums.

He laid the foundations to set a daunting total for Ireland, who were not to be taken lightly after also overcoming West Indies amid an impressive campaign.

Reflecting on the victory, he said: "It was a good team effort really, that Ireland team has been playing beautifully, they've got a really well-rounded side, and it was a good match and good to get the win."

Josh's Little moment of joy

It may ultimately have come in a losing effort, but a hat-trick is always a thing of beauty and Little's was a joy to behold.

In three consecutive deliveries in the penultimate over he accounted for Williamson, James Neesham and Santner, becoming only the sixth man to rack up a World Cup treble.

That feat further enhanced the fast bowler's already glowing reputation and franchises around the world will certainly have taken note.

The fit-again Cheslin Kolbe will play his first Test at full-back when South Africa face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Kolbe has not featured for the Springboks since July due to a broken jaw, but the versatile back will don the number 15 shirt against the top-ranked side in the world.

Kurt-Lee Arendse and Makazole Mapimpi will start on the wings in an exciting back three for the world champions' opening Test of their tour in Dublin 

Damian Willemse gets the nod at fly-half, with Jaden Hendrikse at scrum-half ahead of Faf de Klerk and Jasper Wiese selected as number eight in a loose trio with Pieter Steph-du Toit and Siya Kolisi

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said: "We selected a team we believe contains the best combinations to counter the threats posed by Ireland.

"Damian has done well for us at fly-half, and he is continuing to grow as a player in that role, while we think Cheslin has the potential to add a new dimension to our game at full-back.

"He was sidelined for a while after breaking his jaw against Wales, but he has played four 80-minute matches for Toulon since returning to play, and we are confident that he will step up to the challenge."

 

South Africa team: Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Damian Willemse, Jaden Hendrikse; Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Deon Fourie, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux.

Aaron Finch isn't feeling "too bad" after tweaking his hamstring in Australia's T20 World Cup victory over Ireland, but will have to wait to see if it presents any further complications.

The hosts recorded a 42-run win over their opponents in Group 1 to get their title defence back on track, with their final Super 12 game against Afghanistan later this week.

After struggling with form so far this tournament, Finch returned to his best with a stirring half-century in the first innings, only to be forced off through injury as Ireland fell short in pursuit.

"I've had a bit of a hammy twinge," Finch said. "I don't feel too bad at the moment but generally overnight it can stiffen up a bit. Let's see how it goes. [I] will have a scan tomorrow."

Having posted a total of 179-5, Finch noted that he had hoped for a larger margin of victory for his side, but says they are not feeling the pressure yet.

"[It] wasn't the easiest wicket," he added. "[It was a] lot slower than we thought it would be. They bowled well, [and it] was hard to get into rhythm.

"[But we're] not feeling the pressure at all to be honest. The support from the changing room has been incredible.

"T20 is a high-risk game. Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn't. It wasn't easy to come out and go after the bowling from the start."

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