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Wales relaxed over North switch

R ob Howley says Wales are "more than comfortable" with switching juggernaut wing George North into the centre for next Saturday's autumn Test opener against Australia.

North will partner Jamie Roberts in midfield at the Millennium Stadium after injuries sidelined centres Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams.

While Davies (shoulder) and Williams (hamstring) could both be fit for next week's appointment with Fiji, Wales have turned to North in the short-term as they target a first victory over the Wallabies since 2008.

"George has gone there (centre) before, having been selected against France last season and gone there against Australia (last autumn)," Wales assistant coach Howley said.

"He is going to be stressed defensively in terms of his decision-making, but we are more than comfortable with George playing in the centre, and having another (British and Irish) Lion in Jamie alongside him will give him confidence.

"It was disappointing to lose both Jon and Scott through injury, but it is important we look after our players and make sure they are 100 per cent fit when they are ready to play. We didn't want to take any risks with Scott or Jon.

"Scott and Jon were close, but with the speed of the game against these southern hemisphere sides, you have to be 100 per cent, particularly in those outside channels.

"It gives an opportunity to George to see another skill-set in him, and hopefully it will be a game where they have plenty of possession. With his pace and guile and ability to beat players we are more than comfortable with that partnership."

In-form Scarlets back Liam Williams will wear the number 11 shirt usually filled by North, while Rhys Webb has edged out Mike Phillips for the scrum-half role, with 87 times-capped Phillips on bench duty.

Elsewhere, Bath prop Paul James earns a start ahead of Wales cap centurion Gethin Jenkins, Jake Ball is Alun-Wyn Jones' second-row partner and Dan Lydiate features at blindside flanker despite his lack of game-time with French club Racing Metro this season.

Webb, skipper Sam Warburton, full-back Leigh Halfpenny and hooker Richard Hibbard all missed Wales' summer tour of South Africa due to injury, but are now back for a demanding autumn campaign that will also see Wales face world champions New Zealand and South Africa.

Webb will partner his Ospreys colleague Dan Biggar at half-back, and Howley added: "Their combination for the Ospreys has been a stand-out partnership in the Guinness PRO12.

"It is always tight when you have a world-class player (Phillips), a key player in our team, and you have got a player who is probably the in-form half-back in Wales who has been playing in a very fluid partnership with Dan.

"The question for Rhys now is his ability to step up against a southern hemisphere side with the speed of the game, the speed of his decision-making and his accuracy in his kicking game.

"Mike was outstanding against South Africa (in June) and we are really fortunate in Wales that we have a lot of talent at scrum-half.

"When you have someone who is a world-class player who can come off the bench and have an influence on the game, that puts us in a really good place, not only at nine, but in other positions."

Lydiate, meanwhile, finds himself on back-row starting duty after a difficult few months at Racing. He will leave the big-spending Top 14 outfit in a few weeks' time, but Howley has no doubt about his readiness for Australia's visit.

"We feel Dan has been an important cog from a defensive perspective in terms of getting off the line and his low chop-tackling," Howley said.

"He sets the tone in terms of defence.

"He is important for us, and I think the way he has come back and conditioned himself, he has worked particularly hard. He is very fit, he is looking trim and he is excited about playing in the number six jersey again."

Wales have prepared for the autumn demands through some particularly tough training. Following nine successive defeats against Australia - the countries are in the same World Cup pool next year - captain Warburton accepts the build-up has been about leaving no stone unturned.

"We knew we had to change something going in to play these sides after (previously) going into the first (autumn) game a bit undercooked when it comes to the intensity of the match and the speed of running," Warburton said.

"We've replicated that over the past two weeks, which the players have found difficult. We've been jumping in the cryotherapy (chamber) three times a day because of it to get as much recovery as we can.

"We know that the first 20 to 40-minute period in games, where historically we have been a little bit off the pace, we have covered those yards."

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