Gareth Thomas will be the first Welsh player to reach 50 career Test wins if the side he captains against England at Twickenham on Saturday emerge victorious.
Thomas will lead a new-look Wales team in the 116th match between the two Nations as head coach Gareth Jenkins runs his eye over potential Rugby World Cup squad members for one final time before he names his 30-man squad.
“It’s important that we have a final look at certain players and combinations and this selection accommodates that,” said Jenkins.
“It’s the final opportunity for certain individuals to make a statement and after Saturday I’ll be better placed to make the selection before the 14th of August.”
Jenkins has selected his captain at inside centre partnering his Cardiff Blues colleague Tom Shanklin. Dafydd James, who missed Wales’ tour of Australia through injury, is given a chance on the left wing and is joined by Aled Brew on the right. Lee Byrne fills the full back berth with Ceri Sweeney and Gareth Cooper forming the half back partnership.
Up front Will James is set to win the first cap of his career at the age of 30 and partners Rob Sidoli in the second row. Veteran back row Colin Charvis has passed a fitness test to be selected at flanker, Michael Owen is given his chance at No.8 and Alun-Wyn Jones completes the back row.
The front row is made up of Iestyn Thomas and the English-born Chris Horsman at prop with Huw Bennett at hooker. Tom James could also win his first cap if called up from the bench.
“Inside centre is one of the areas we are not absolutely clear about in terms of how our combinations are going to work, we are very comfortable with Gareth in that position and this is an excellent opportunity to give him another run there,” said Jenkins.
“Gareth is well established and respected as a captain and the players will respond to him very well in Stephen’s absence on Saturday.
“Stephen’s injury – which we will know more about tomorrow – also gives Ceri Sweeney an opportunity he deserves to start at fly half. He hasn’t had the chance for over a year at this level to start there and so should relish it.
“Up front it’s the same story for us, again selection is about giving opportunity to players who didn’t have a chance in the Six Nations.
“With Ryan Jones out Michael gets an opportunity at No.8 and Colin shows us how flexible and versatile an option he is by featuring at openside flanker.
“It was always going to be the case that the Australia tour would bring some players to the fore and that was the case for both of those players.
“Will (James) has impressed in training throughout the summer, he is not a young man at 30 but he is young in terms of rugby life, he has impressed everyone and has a real chance if he goes well on Saturday.
“We will be giving full respect to the tradition of this fixture and going out there looking to beat England and square the series.
“We hope to learn other things about our squad in the meantime but Wales teams have been travelling to Twickenham since 1910 and we want to join the other 51 sides that have notched up a ‘W’ against them.”
England have achieved 9 successive victories at Twickenham, which matches the Welsh record at Cardiff Arms Park set between 1965 and 1981.
Results between the two sides currently give England a 52-51 lead with 12 matches drawn and Thomas, who earns his 95th cap could be the man to help Wales level the series.
“Because of injuries that have been making people unavailable to training in the last few weeks we have also added Nicky Robinson and Robin Sowden-Taylor to our camp to train with the squad,” added Jenkins.
WALES: Lee Byrne, Aled Brew, Tom Shanklin, Gareth Thomas (Captain), Dafydd James, Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Cooper, Iestyn Thomas, Huw Bennett, Chris Horsman, Will James, Rob Sidoli, Alun-Wyn Jones, Colin Charvis, Michael Owen.
REPLACEMENTS: Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Thomas, TR Thomas, Alix Popham, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Tom James.