belfasttelegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Warburton handed chance to impress

Sam Warburton

Sam Warburton faces another audition on Saturday that could ultimately lead to him playing a starring role in Wales' 2011 World Cup campaign.

The 22-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker has already been identified as Martyn Williams' potential long-term successor. It is a tough act to follow, but an inevitable changing of the guard has moved another step closer with Wales coach Warren Gatland's team selection for Saturday's autumn Test series opener against Australia in Cardiff.

"There was debate in the back-row," said Gatland. "And we decided we wanted to have another look at Sam, who hasn't played for us since South Africa in June. In terms of the openside, we need to still find out about Sam."

He added: "We were very pleased with his last game against South Africa, and it was disappointing he was then injured and unable to go on the summer tour to New Zealand, so he is getting another opportunity."

Warburton, though, will not be Wales' only back-row forward in the spotlight on Saturday, as Gatland hands another 22-year-old - Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate - a chance.

"Dan played against Australia 12 months ago, and he knew it was a big lesson, a big learning curve for him," the Wales coach continued. "We think he has grown up in the last 12 months.

"He's been very impressive for the Dragons, defensively and with his ball-carrying. It's a great chance for him as a young player to show much he has improved in 12 months."

Elsewhere, Gatland has predictably moved star centre James Hook to full-back instead of an injured Lee Byrne. It was a role Hook filled with great success last autumn when Byrne was also absent through injury.

Blues centre Tom Shanklin wins his 67th cap, partnering Andrew Bishop in midfield, with Dragons wing Will Harries taking over from Leigh Halfpenny, who is sidelined with ankle ligament trouble.

With last season's Wales captain Ryan Jones out because of a torn calf muscle, Scarlets hooker Matthew Rees skippers his country for the first time.

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