Wales boss Wayne Pivac has hailed Dan Lydiate as “a form player in club rugby” after recalling him for a first Test match appearance since late 2018.
The Ospreys flanker has not been involved in Wales’ last 29 games, but will start Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Principality Stadium visitors Ireland.
And Lydiate will be part of a team containing a combined total of 874 caps, making it the most experienced starting line-up in Wales’ international rugby history.
Apart from welcoming 33-year-old Lydiate back into the fold – he was Six Nations player of the tournament nine years ago and has won 64 caps – Cardiff Blues wing Hallam Amos also features, and captain Alun Wyn Jones plays his first game since suffering a knee injury nine weeks ago.
Ospreys wing George North, meanwhile, will make his 99th Wales appearance at outside centre, partnering Johnny Williams in midfield, while Jonathan Davies misses out through injury.
“Dan is a form player in club rugby, he has come into the camp and trained very well,” Pivac said.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) February 5, 2021
“He deserves a start, in our opinion. He will bring a lot of experience and he is a hard-nosed player. He is what we need in round one.”
North keeps the number 13 shirt he wore against Autumn Nations Cup opponents Italy on December 5, and Pivac added: “George has run there (at 13) for the last two weeks.
“That has been our plan with Jonathan Davies’ injury, which he picked up in club rugby before coming into the camp.
“George did well there in the Italian game. He is comfortable at 13, and we are comfortable with him there.”
Amos and Gloucester’s Louis Rees-Zammit take the wing positions in a department where Liam Williams and Josh Adams are both suspended.
Williams was sent off during Scarlets’ Guinness PRO14 defeat against the Blues last month, and Adams is serving a two-match ban imposed by the Welsh Rugby Union after breaching Covid-19 protocols by attending a family gathering.
Elsewhere, 77 times-capped hooker Ken Owens and scrum-half Tomos Williams return after missing Wales’ six autumn Tests due to shoulder injuries, and Adam Beard is also back as skipper Jones’ second-row partner.
Pivac oversaw just three wins – against Italy twice, and Georgia – from 10 starts last year, and his team finished a disappointing fifth in the Six Nations.
Wales have also lost four successive Tests to Ireland, although their opponents this weekend have not won a Six Nations fixture on Welsh soil since 2013.
Ireland’s recent dominance has led to some strong opinions across the Irish Sea that Wales will be up against it this weekend, but Pivac said: “We don’t trawl through those comments or see them.
𝐓𝐄𝐀𝐌 𝐍𝐄𝐖𝐒: Wales side to face @IrishRugby in our 2021 #GuinnessSixNations opener this Sunday ☘️ ⠀⠀⏎ 𝘋𝘢𝘯 𝘓𝘺𝘥𝘪𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘺𝘯 𝘥𝘦𝘤𝘩𝘳𝘢𝘶 𝘥𝘳𝘰𝘴 𝘎𝘺𝘮𝘳𝘶 𝘢𝘮 𝘺 𝘵𝘳𝘰 𝘤𝘺𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘧 𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘮𝘪𝘴 𝘛𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘸𝘦𝘥𝘥 2018. ⠀⠀🏴 #HWFN pic.twitter.com/tdEONKsBQi
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 5, 2021
“You are always going to get those sorts of discussions either side of the Irish Sea before a game like this. Really, it just adds some spice to it, doesn’t it?
“People are allowed their opinions. From our point of view, we will just box on and try to put out a performance that we need to in order to win the game.”
Wales return to Cardiff for the first time since being beaten by France at the Principality Stadium almost 12 months ago.
The ground then became Dragon’s Heart Hospital, treating coronavirus patients, before it was decommissioned, and Wales played all six of their autumn internationals at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli behind closed doors, which will also be the case on Sunday.
“We learnt a lot from playing with no crowds in the autumn,” Pivac added. “Everybody did, and some did it better than others.
“Just walking on to the park on Wednesday, we had a training session there, and there was a lift in the boys just being in the home changing room again after so much time away.
“There were smiles on faces, they were happy to be back there. We are very much looking forward to getting back into the stadium.”