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Rugby-Nine changes for Wales as Williams starts at flyhalf against England

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - Wales vs Australia

(Reuters) - Wales have wielded the axe with nine changes to their side for the Six Nations showdown with England on Saturday, including a start for Owen Williams ahead of Dan Biggar at flyhalf as coach Warren Gatland desperately seeks a winning formula.

The match had been under threat this week as Welsh players mulled strike action following a dispute over contracts for next season, but was given the green light on Wednesday with the squad having resumed training.

It will be a first international start for Williams at flyhalf having previously played centre as Gatland also called on the cavalry with the return of a number of senior players, including number eight Taulupe Faletau, loose-forward Justin Tipuric, lock Alun Wyn Jones and fullback Leigh Halfpenny.

There is also a debut for Mason Grady at outside centre as he partners another rookie in Joe Hawkins as the midfield pairing. George North is not in the match 23.

Halfpenny earns a first start in almost two years having been named, and then withdrawn due to injury, a number of times in recent months, while fit-again wing Louis Rees-Zammit is back in the starting team in the place of Rio Dyer. Josh Adams is the other wing.

Gareth Thomas and Tomas Francis pack down at prop either side of hooker and captain Ken Owens, while Adam Beard joins Jones in the second row and Christ Tshiunza keeps his place from the 35-7 loss to Scotland last time out to form a back row with Tipuric and Faletau.

"There’s some experience coming back into the side and then we’re mixing that with giving players an opportunity. Owen Williams coming in at 10 – we need to find out about that 10 position so Owen gets a chance," Gatland said in a media release from Welsh Rugby.

"We’ve given Mason Grady a first cap. He’s a big lad, he’s got some really lovely rugby skills and offloading ability. He’s quick, so he’s the kind of centre that I think is going to have it all going forward."

Wales have had two heavy defeats in the Six Nations so far with the Scotland defeat preceded by a 34-10 home loss to Ireland.

Wales team:

15-Leigh Halfpenny; 14-Louis Rees-Zammit, 13-Mason Grady, 12-Joe Hawkins, 11-Josh Adams; 10-Owen Williams, 9-Tomos Williams; 1-Gareth Thomas, 2-Ken Owens, 3-Tomas Francis, 4-Adam Beard, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 6-Christ Tshiunza, 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: 16-Bradley Roberts, 17-Rhys Carre, 18-Dillon Lewis, 19-Dafydd Jenkins, 20-Tommy Reffell, 21-Kieran Hardy, 22-Dan Biggar, 23-Nick Tompkins.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)