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Warburton may be drafted in to Welsh line-up

By Andrew Baldock

Sam Warburton could start Wales' RBS Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday as he prepares to make his comeback from injury.

Warburton, who has been sidelined for two months because of a shoulder problem, is currently on the replacements' bench with lock Alun-Wyn Jones taking over from him as captain.

But Racing Metro flanker Dan Lydiate left Wales' training base yesterday, flying back to Paris, where his fiancee is expecting the couple's first child.

If Lydiate is ruled out, then Warburton will be promoted to the starting line-up.

"Whether Dan Lydiate gets back for the game or not, we will play that one by ear and see what happens over the next few days," Wales coach Warren Gatland said.

"His fiancee has gone into labour. I have spoken to Dan and said to take a few days, and if he gets back on Thursday or even Friday we will be able to accommodate doing without him for a couple of days.

"We always stress with the squad about how important family is.

"I did speak to him to see if he wanted the weekend off and perhaps think about the following week, but he is adamant he wants to get back and play, so fingers-crossed it is not a false alarm and he has gone back to Paris for the birth of his child."

Wales skipper Warburton has not played since the autumn series finale against Australia on November 30, and Gatland's current plan is to ease him back off the bench.

But he would also have no qualms pitching Warburton straight into the Test arena when Wales begin their bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of Six Nations titles.

Gatland's selection sees Rhys Priestland preferred to Dan Biggar for fly-half duties, Jamie Roberts returning in midfield after missing this season's autumn Tests, prop Paul James starting ahead of Gethin Jenkins and Luke Charteris filling the second-row vacancy left by suspended Ospreys forward Ian Evans.

"As a squad, this is the hardest team we've had to pick for a long time, whether it was the starting XV or the bench," Gatland added.

"We've felt Rhys has been playing quite well for the Scarlets. It is a little bit hard on Dan – he obviously did well in the Six Nations last year.

"We had a good discussion about 10, as we did about the front-row.

"We sat down with Gethin and made a decision that he was fit (following a knee injury), but we felt that he needed more time.

"It is a good opportunity for Paul to get a run-out and for Gethin to do another week of conditioning and be in contention next week."

Gatland also confirmed that British and Irish Lions Test centre Jonathan Davies is continuing excellent progress from a serious pectoral muscle injury he suffered in early November.

Davies has been released back to his regional team the Scarlets, and he could be involved against London Irish on Saturday.

Wales team to play Italy in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Scarlets), J Roberts (Racing Metro), G North (Northampton); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Racing Metro); P James (Bath), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Perpignan), A-W Jones (Ospreys, capt), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), R Bevington (Ospreys), R Jones (Scarlets), A Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), R Webb (Ospreys), J Hook (Perpignan), L Williams (Scarlets).

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