Wales v Australia: Dan Lydiate has proved fitness, says Rob Howley

Dan Lydiate
Dan Lydiate has started only two games for Racing Metro this season.
Rugby Union Autumn International: Wales v Australia
Venue: Millennium Stadium Date: Saturday, 8 November 2014. Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, Red Button, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, 5 live sports extra, online, mobile, the BBC Sport app and Connected TV.

Rob Howley says Dan Lydiate has proved his fitness ahead of Saturday's opening autumn international against Australia.

Lydiate has started only two games for Racing Metro this season, and is currently unattached after announcing he is returning to Wales.

Backs coach Howley says the Wales squad has had "one of the toughest weeks" in training, and the blind-side has shone.

"Dan Lydiate has come out in the top five of the echelons of fitness," said the former Wales scrum-half.

"I totally understand there's fit and there's rugby fit, but we feel Dan's been an important cog from a defensive perspective... and sets the tone in terms of defence."

Lydiate's selection is one of the main talking points in a team which sees captain Sam Warburton, full-back Leigh Halfpenny, scrum-half Rhys Webb and hooker Richard Hibbard all return after missing the summer tour of South Africa with injuries.

The 26-year-old flanker has reached an agreement with Racing Metro to move back to Wales in December, although it is not clear which of the four regions he will join.

Lydiate, who has won 37 Wales caps, moved to the French side from Newport Gwent Dragons in June last year but has struggled to hold down a first-team place.

Despite his lack of matches, Lydiate has also impressed his back row partner and Wales captain Sam Warburton at the Welsh training camp.

"I hang my head in shame - Dan has been beating me in all the fitness tests over the past two weeks," said Warburton.

"That shows he has been working so hard at Racing. He is in a very good place at the moment. He is physically strong, he is fit and he is performing well in training."

Warburton has no doubts Lydiate will be an asset for Wales on Saturday, as Warren Gatland's side go in search of their first win against Australia since 2008.

"Dan, defensively, is unrivalled by any blindside or almost any forward in world rugby in the way that he tackles," said Warburton.

"For me, he revolutionised tackling in 2011 with the chop-tackling, and I don't think that I have seen anyone more effective at it.

"It will be great to have a firing Dan, which I am sure we will get on Saturday."

Wales' autumn Tests
Saturday, 8 November: v Australia (14:30 GMT)
Saturday, 15 November: v Fiji (14:30 GMT)
Saturday, 22 November: v New Zealand (17:30 GMT)
Saturday, 29 November: v South Africa (14:30 GMT)
All games to be played at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Other key selections see Northampton wing George North move to centre as cover for the injured Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams, Rhys Webb preferred at scrum-half to Mike Phillips and Bath loose-head Paul James getting the nod ahead of 107-cap Blues legend Gethin Jenkins.

Howley acknowledged North's best position was wing, but added: "We are more than comfortable with George playing in the centre."

"So when we lost Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies we had to look at our strength in depth. I think George's best position is wing but he is comfortable in the centres with his speed and guile.

"Scott and Jonathan were close to being fit but with the speed of the game against these Southern Hemisphere sides you have to be 100% in those outside channels.

"The common sense approach was that both need to be 100% when selected and could be ready for the Fiji game."

The 42-times capped North scored two tries from centre against the Wallabies in the autumn of 2013, and partnered Jamie Roberts at centre in Wales' 27-6 win over France in the 2014 Six Nations.

Webb's selection at scrum-half sees him paired with his Ospreys half-back partner Dan Bigger.

Howley, who played 59 times for Wales, says Webb's selection ahead of the "world class" Phillips is a reward for his good form in the Pro 12.

"It's up to Rhys now to step up against southern hemisphere side," said Howley, adding: "The speed of the game, the speed of his decision making and his accuracy in his kicking game.

"Mike was outstanding against South Africa in the summer and it's great to have a world-class player to come off the bench."

The Wales bench boasts three British and Irish Lions - Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and Justin Tipuric - and more than 300 Wales caps.

And Howley says that experience will be key against a team who have made a habit of scoring late to clinch wins against Wales.

"The strength in depth we've got on the bench, over 300 caps and three Lions, will be a key part of the game on Saturday when we're playing against a southern hemisphere team."

TEAM

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Paul James (Bath), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Unattached), Sam Warburton (Capt), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Bradley Davies (London Wasps), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues).

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