Jenkins backs Alfie

Wales head coach Gareth Jenkins today (Thursday) named Gareth Thomas on the right wing to face Ireland in the RBS Six Nations 2007 opener at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 3.00pm).

Thomas was up before an independent Disciplinary Committee this morning to answer a misconduct complaint arising from the Round 6 Heineken Cup Pool 5 match against Ulster Rugby at Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday, 21 January and the Wales squad have been forced to prepare this week with contingency plans for the outcome in place.

“We were hugely disappointed to find out that the hearing would occur this week and it has been a challenge to the squad and to Gareth himself, but it is a challenge we have managed and coped with,” said Jenkins.

“We have had to come up with a contingency plan to replace Gareth if the hearing decides he cannot play on Sunday.”

Should Thomas be forced to miss Sunday’s sell-out match, Jenkins will call up Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Robinson and move Harlequins threequarter Hal Luscombe out to the wing.

“Hal is more than comfortable in either position and we are fortunate to have someone of his versatility to help solve this selection issue,” said Jenkins.

“Jamie (Robinson) is also a quality player, who has been unlucky to miss out on initial selection, and he knows what his country requires of him and is ready to step up to the plate if necessary.”

Elsewhere in the backs Jenkins has gone for in-form Ospreys youngster James Hook, who will make his Six Nations debut, to partner Luscombe in the centre and Blues speedster Chris Czekaj on the left wing. Scarlets half-back pairing Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel bring their experienced partnership to the back-line and Kevin Morgan claims the full back berth.

Up front props Gethin Jenkins (Blues) and Chris Horsman (Worcester) pack down with Blues hooker Rhys Thomas. In the second row Dragon Ian Gough partners the Ospreys’ Alun Wyn Jones, Scarlets flanker Alix Popham and Blues open-side Martyn Williams join Ospreys No8 Ryan Jones in the back row.

Ospreys pair Adam Jones and Gavin Henson are two of the higher profile players to miss out on selection this weekend, but Jenkins maintains all squad players will have the chance to play themselves into future starting line-ups during training sessions in the coming weeks.

“We have a strong squad and players who have been left out through form or injury should not be disheartened. The door will remain open for players to return during the course of the Championship and we look forward to many more weeks of intense competition for places,” he added.

The Wales coach goes into his first RBS Six Nations Championship match hoping for victory, but relishing the chance to measure his side against the competition favourites on home turf.

“Ireland are everyone’s favourites for the Championship, but we have belief in our squad and are very much looking forward to meeting head on the challenge they represent,” added Jenkins.

WALES: Kevin Morgan; Gareth Thomas, Hal Luscombe, James Hook, Chris Czekaj; Stephen Jones (captain), Dwayne Peel; Gethin Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas, Chris Horsman, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones, Alix Popham, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones. REPLACEMENTS: Matthew Rees, Duncan Jones, Robert Sidoli, Gavin Thomas, Michael Phillips, Ceri Sweeney, AN Other

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