herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

George North ruled out of Wales' final autumn Test against Boks

Wales player George North (l) contests a high ball with Angelo Esposito (c) and Joshua Furno (r) of Italy
Wales player George North (l) contests a high ball with Angelo Esposito (c) and Joshua Furno (r) of Italy

George North has been ruled out of Wales' autumn Test finale against South Africa at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The Northampton wing suffered a blow to his head during last weekend's 34-16 loss to world champions New Zealand.

North is replaced in the number 11 shirt by Scarlets back Liam Williams.

Two switches up front see starts for prop Gethin Jenkins, who wins his 110th cap, and hooker Scott Baldwin.

Jenkins taker over from Paul James, while Baldwin replaces Richard Hibbard.

Both James and Hibbard have returned to their respective Aviva Premiership clubs Bath and Gloucester. They are unavailable for Wales duty as Saturday's game falls outside the International Rugby Board autumn Test window.

North's absence was widely expected, and it sees a start for Williams, who has been among Wales' most impressive performers during the current autumn campaign.

It also means he faces South Africa five months after he was heavily involved in late drama during Wales' second Test defeat against the Springboks in Nelspruit.

Wales led throughout the game, but South Africa gained a decisive penalty try two minutes from time after Williams was ruled to have tackled an opponent by leading with his shoulder.

The Springboks' 31-30 success was rough justice on Wales, yet it gave South Africa a 16th successive victory in the fixture since suffering a Millennium Stadium defeat 15 years ago.

Jenkins has recently been troubled by a hamstring problem, but he now returns to pack down alongside Baldwin, who makes his second Test start, and Scarlets tighthead Samson Lee.

Aaron Jarvis and Rhodri Jones will provide prop cover on the bench, where James King is the back-row option instead of Justin Tipuric and fly-half Rhys Priestland is recalled as Dan Biggar's back-up.

"We have had a couple of changes forced upon us with the injury to George (North), and with Paul (James) and Richard (Hibbard) returning to their clubs, but we have named what we think is a very strong side," Wales head coach Warren Gatland said.

"Last weekend was a very intense, physical encounter.

"The guys were disappointed, but we have come in this morning, the squad are feeling fresh and the focus is looking ahead to Saturday and the Test against the Springboks.

"As coaches, we will be asking for the same effort, intensity and desire as last week, and we want a repeat of that at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday."

Wales have only beaten South Africa, New Zealand or Australia once in 27 attempts under Gatland, with their solitary victory coming against Australia six years ago.

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