WALES head coach Warren Gatland has highlighted the importance of Dragons hooker Elliot Dee ahead of Saturday's crunch clash with England at Twickenham.

Newport-born Dee has started only 11 times for Wales, winning the remaining 35 of his 46 caps as a replacement – a role he fulfilled in last week’s narrow 27-26 defeat by Scotland at the Principality Stadium.

But he is in the starting XV as part of seven changes for the showdown with England, and Gatland says Dee is key to his plans.

“I’ve always liked him as a player,” said the Kiwi coach. “He brings a lot of energy off the bench. I spoke to him during the World Cup, saying ‘you won’t like it, but I see you as important in that role’.

“He doesn't get flustered, and he fulfils a role for us. He’s probably fulfilling a role that he does brilliantly, but he’ll be relishing that challenge.”

South Wales Argus: Wales v Australia - Rugby World Cup France 2023 - Pool C - Elliot Dee of Wales at full time. Picture: Huw Evans Picture AgencyWales v Australia - Rugby World Cup France 2023 - Pool C - Elliot Dee of Wales at full time. Picture: Huw Evans Picture Agency (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)

Meanwhile, Gatland has eased injury fears surrounding fly-half Ioan Lloyd.

Lloyd has been brought into the starting line-up, alongside Dee, after impressing with his second-half performance against Scotland. The 22-year-old replaces the injured Sam Costelow in the XV.

Concerns had been raised that Lloyd himself had picked up an injury ahead of facing England, but Gatland has quelled those fears.

“He trained fully today,” he said at yesterday’s pre-match press conference. “He felt his hamstring was a little tight on Tuesday. They didn’t think it was sprained. He’s probably just doing things a little quicker than he’s used to.

Asked if he had been impressed with Lloyd, Gatland admitted he was “still learning the position” but was a “quality” attacking player. “He’s working hard on his kicking game with Neil Jenkins,” he added. That’s an area of improvement. For him, he’s a quality runner. It’s about nailing down a couple of positions. We’re not trying to put him under any pressure.

“There’s a lot less space as a running threat at Test level. His game management is important. He’s still very young in terms of experience. It’s his first start there in international rugby.”

In the other changes to Wales' side, the fit-again George North returns to outside centre to make his 50th Six Nations appearance, while Tomos Williams and Alex Mann have both been handed starts. A fresh front row sees Gareth Thomas return alongside Dee and Kieron Assiratti, while prop Archie Griffin is in line to make his debut off the bench.