by Tom Pritchard
Liam Williams will win his 50th cap for Wales when they face Tonga on Saturday. Jonah Holmes makes his debut, and Ellis Jenkins captains his country for the second time.
Head coach Warren Gatland has made 14 changes to the side that defeated Australia last weekend, their first win over the Wallabies in 13 attempts.
Williams, who plays his club rugby for Saracens, will make his 50th appearance; and the Kiwi was full of praise for the 27-year-old: “He’s such a combative player, and puts his body on the line. Hopefully he gets a lot of touches.”
As one back three player brings up a half century of games, another will be making his first.
Stockport-born Leicester Tigers full-back Jonah Holmes will make his international bow at the Principality Stadium.
The 26-year-old, who was playing in the English Championship with Yorkshire Carnegie as recently as 2017, has seen his stock rise dramatically in recent months; scoring 10 tries in 11 appearances for Geordan Murphy’s Tigers.
Gatland made clear what he is looking for from the former Wasps player: “He’s impressed us in training so far. He’s got that ability and we want to see him at full back.”
Cardiff Blues flanker Ellis Jenkins will captain the side for the first time since taking the armband on the summer tour to Argentina; a series which Wales won 2-0.
The 55-year-old Kiwi is confident that Jenkins can perform well: “Both him and Cory Hill did a brilliant job in the summer. He’s an intelligent rugby player.
He’s more worried about his performances than the captaincy.”
Looking ahead to the challenge that Tonga will pose, the Wales boss, who will step down following the conclusion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, spoke about what his side will have to bring: “They’ve had a game under the belt (against French Barbarians) and they’ll be confident. We’ll need to be physical and direct.”
Jake Ball makes a welcome return in the second row. The 27-year-old is a strong and combative ball carrier, characteristics that are required against a side like Tonga who like to play a physical, no-nonsense brand of rugby.
Leigh Halfpenny, who was concussed after a strong challenge from Australian centre Samu Kerevi last weekend, will sit out this weekend’s game as he completes the return-to-play protocols.
Gatland was clear on why the Scarlets full-back won’t feature against Tonga: “He’s got to be 100%, there’s no point gambling on his health.”
In a game which the visitors will look to impose themselves up front, the challenge for Wales is to match them in this facet – and then utilise effectively the likes of Williams, Owen Watkin and Steffan Evans behind the scrum.