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Six Nations: Welsh boss Gatland glad to bring Tom James in from wilderness

By Andrew Baldock

Published 04/02/2016

Familiar face: Tom James has returned as a mature player
Familiar face: Tom James has returned as a mature player

Wales boss Warren Gatland has hailed Tom James' revival as the wing prepares to end a five-year Test exile during the opening weekend of this season's RBS Six Nations.

James, who has won 10 caps, returns to the international arena when Wales tackle Ireland at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Sunday, having last represented his country against New Zealand in November 2010.

A spell with Aviva Premiership club Exeter helped the transformation process, and since rejoining Cardiff Blues he has maintained prodigious try-scoring form.

Earlier in 2010, James briefly withdrew himself from Wales squad activity ahead of a Six Nations finale against Italy after being overlooked for selection.

But Gatland is relishing the 28-year-old's return as Wales begin their quest for a possible fourth Six Nations title of his coaching reign.

"If you look back at the history of it, he was in the Welsh goldfish bowl," Gatland said of James.

"He needed to get out, and he went out to play for Exeter and had some excellent form there.

"I think he has grown up and matured fantastically well.

"He came back, and his form for the Blues has been outstanding, so he has been selected.

"He was unlucky not to be involved at the (2015) World Cup due to injuries. His form has been excellent, and he deserves his opportunity to come back."

Gatland has also handed starts to the likes of Blues full-back Gareth Anscombe - son of former Ulster boss Mark - Scarlets prop Rob Evans and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric, with Wales captain Sam Warburton moving from openside to blindside flanker and a powerful bench featuring British and Irish Lions trio Alex Cuthbert, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate.

Centre Jonathan Davies, who missed the World Cup because of a knee injury, is reunited in midfield with Jamie Roberts.

But there is no place in the match-day 23 for full-back Liam Williams, who began his comeback from a foot injury by playing 60 minutes for the Scarlets last Saturday, having been sidelined since the World Cup.

Lydiate has been out for just over a month with a shoulder/neck problem, but Tipuric's outstanding form for the Ospreys probably demanded inclusion anyway, and Warburton is no stranger to the blindside role.

Assessing Ireland's challenge, Gatland added: "I suppose the template for them is the way they played against us two years ago when we went to the Aviva and they played us off the park.

"They dominated territory and possession, and we didn't handle their kicking game. We are expecting the same again.

"There is a lot of pressure to perform and get results, and we want to start well. If we can win, it will put us in a positive step for the rest of the tournament."

Wales team to play Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship in Dublin on Sunday: G Anscombe (Cardiff Blues); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Clermont Auvergne), J Roberts (Harlequins), T James (Cardiff Blues); D Biggar (Ospreys), G Davies (Scarlets); R Evans (Scarlets), S Baldwin (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), L Charteris (Racing 92), A-W Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), T Francis (Exeter), B Davies (Wasps), D Lydiate (Ospreys), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Priestland (Bath), A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues).

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