Six Nations 2015: Italy vs Wales Preview

Everything you need to know as Wales head to Rome looking to pull off a huge win to keep their title dreams alive

By Gareth Llewellyn
rhyswebbtry500
Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb can lead Wales to big victory in Rome Photo: Jason O'Callaghan

Kick-off and TV/Radio coverage

Saturday 21 March 2015, Stadio Olimpico, Rome. Kick-off 12:30 GMT. Live TV coverage on BBC1 across the UK, RTÉ2 in Ireland. Live radio coverage on BBC 5 Live.

Who’s the man with the whistle?

New Zealand referee Chris Pollock takes charge of his third RBS 6 Nations contest, supported by England duo JP Doyle and Luke Pearce. Ireland TMO Simon McDowell is on duty for the fourth match involving Wales this championship.

What’s the team news?

Italy: Jacques Brunel has made four changes for this one, with the big news that captain Sergio Parisse misses out with a toe injury. His place in the back row is taken by veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco, with Samuela Vunisa switching to number eight.

Veteran tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni returns to the starting XV at the expense of Dario Chistolini, after missing the last two matches with stitches to his nose.

He is joined in the front row by Leicester Tigers prop Michele Rizzo, who replaces Matias Agüero.

In the backline, Zebre outside-half Kelly Haimona returns in place of Tommaso Allan, who drops out of the 23.

Wales: Just the two enforced changes for Warren Gatland, both in the front row. Injured props Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee are replaced by Rob Evans and Aaron Jarvis, as they were last time out. Scott Baldwin keeps his place at hooker after Richard Hibbard was ruled out.

The rest of the pack remains as it has been for the last two matches with Luke Charteris keeping his place alongside Alun Wyn Jones in the engine room, while Dan Lydiate also keeps his place alongside Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau.

The back division sees Ospreys duo Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb line up at half-back, the familiar midfield of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts, with Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Liam Williams making up the back three.

The bench sees a reshuffle with Saracens loosehead prop Rhys Gill and Cardiff Blues tighthead prop Scott Andrews drafted in, while fit-again Scarlets hooker Ken Owens takes Hibbard’s place.

Scarlets lock Jake Ball and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric again cover the second and back rows, respectively.

Scarlets duo Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams continue to cover the backs, with their club team-mate Gareth Davies preferred to Mike Phillips as the scrum-half option.

What are the line-ups?

Italy: Luke McLean (Sale Sharks); Leonardo Sarto (Zebre Rugby), Luca Morisi (Benetton Treviso), Andrea Masi (Wasps), Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre Rugby); Kelly Haimona (Zebre Rugby), Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso); Michele Rizzo (Leicester Tigers), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester Tigers, captain), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), George Biagi (Zebre Rugby), Joshua Furno (Newcastle Falcons), Francesco Minto (Benetton Treviso), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre Rugby), Samuela Vunisa (Zebre Rugby).

Replacements: Andrea Manici (Zebre Rugby), Alberto De Marchi (Sale Sharks), Dario Chistolini (Zebre Rugby), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre Rugby), Roberto Barbieri (Leicester Tigers); Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre Rugby), Luciano Orquera (Zebre Rugby), Enrico Bacchin (Benetton Treviso).

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon); George North (Northampton Saints), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Jamie Roberts (Racing Métro), Liam Williams (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys); Rob Evans (Scarlets), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Racing Métro), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, captain), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Rhys Gill (Saracens), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys); Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

Who are the players to watch this week?

Italy: With captain Sergio Parisse out through injury, the Azzurri need all the help they can get if they are to avoid another embarrassing defeat. As the last line of defence, Sale Sharks full-back Luke McLean will be vital to Italy’s chances of getting anything from the match. He was man of the match against Scotland and will need to produce another stellar performance against the potent Welsh backline. There is no doubting that Italy’s biggest weapon is their set-piece and McLean has the boot to get them into areas where they could cause Wales problems. With outside-half Kelly Haimona returning to the side and not enjoying the greatest of runs, it will fall to McLean to steer Italy to the right areas of the field.

Wales: Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb and Gareth Davies, providing cover on the bench, have to be the men to watch in a contest that Wales need to get motoring early and keep blasting the Italian tryline until the final whistle. Webb has sevens rugby pedigree, a Rugby World Cup Sevens winner in 2009 no less, and his lively running will be as essential as getting quick ball to his backline colleagues. Dan Biggar will march Wales around the park with his tactical supremacy, but it is the other half-back cog that could be the best catalyst to get Wales close the big win they need to have a chance of landing the title when the dust settles at Twickenham in the evening. The Wales coaches have urged caution on not treating the match like an elongated sevens match, but that’s precisely the attitude they need to keep in mind. A fast, offload-laden approach will quickly demoralise the Italians if the tries come, and the two scrum-halves both have a try-scoring pedigree for club and country when it matters.

What do the teams make of this match?

Italy head coach, Jacques Brunel: “We are disappointed with the performance against France – we wanted to build on the victory in Edinburgh, but we did not succeed.

“Against Scotland, the players who came off the bench played a crucial role. The same didn’t happen in the second half against France, so I hope we can change that.

“The scrum did a fantastic job against Scotland, but disappointed against France. They are experienced players and they know where they went wrong.

“We want a response after the bad performance against France, and that’s what we expect.”

Wales head coach, Warren Gatland: “We have to focus on the game and be smart about the way we approach it, accumulating points and opening up later in the match, not getting ahead of ourselves.”

What happened last time they met?

Wales ran out 23-15 winners at the Millennium Stadium in February last year. Tries for Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams saved Wales after an unconvincing start to the campaign as Michele Campagnaro stunned the home side with two well-taken tries.

How did they get on last time out?

Italy: Jacques Brunel’s men suffered a 29-0 hammering at the hands of France in Rome as Yoann Maestri and Mathieu Bastareaud scored second-half tries. Camille Lopez, Scott Spedding and replacement Jules Plisson combined to kick 19 points off the tee.

Wales: In what has quickly been dubbed the greatest match of this year’s Six Nations, Ireland’s Grand Slam dreams were snuffed out by a resilient Welsh display in Gatland’s men ran out 23-16 winners. Ireland dominated territory and possession, but had only a penalty try and 11 points from Johnny Sexton for their efforts as Scott Williams’ late try made the difference.

What do the bookies make of the match?

The loss of talisman Sergio Parisse hit Italy’s chances and Wales head to Rome as clear favourites.

Our man Paddy Power is offering Italy at 12/1, Wales at 1/33, the draw at 40/1.

Odds stated are correct at time of publication and subject to change.

Prediction

Wales have continued to get better as the tournament has progressed, epitomised by their superb display against Ireland last week. Italy can be tricky at home, but expect Wales to walk away with at least a 20-point win as they look to keep their slim title hopes alive.

Anything I may have missed?

Italy have only won once in their last nine Six Nations matches, a 22-19 win coming against Scotland at BT Murrayfield in round three three weeks ago.

Their home record also leaves a bit desired with their last win at the Stadio Olimpico in the Six Nations coming against Ireland in the final round two years ago.

Wales are aiming to repeat their 2013 feat of winning the title after losing their opening game. The only country to do that was France in 2006.

The omens are good, with Wales winning their last three matches in round five of the tournament and never failing to score a try in any Test match against the Azzurri.

Discipline remains an issue for Warren Gatland’s men, conceding 50 penalties in the opening four rounds this year.

But they have the tournament’s leading points scorer in Leigh Halfpenny, who has landed 54 points off the tee so far.

MORE:

OUR PICK: Discover the 5 best fat burner supplements

MORE: Have your say on Facebook

MORE: The latest football news

MORE: The latest tennis news

Opinion
The Sport Review
Man United signing Nemanja Matic sees his stock rise in perfect Chelsea storm
The Sport Review
Top 50 most stylish footballers in the world in 2017: Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool stars feature
The Sport Review
Top 40 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United stars feature
The Sport Review
Top 25 footballers’ cars: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid players feature
The Sport Review
Top 20 Nigerian footballers in Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool stars feature
The Sport Review
Arsenal player wages 2017: Do you know how much Xhaka, Ozil and Coquelin earn each week?
The Sport Review
Arsene Wenger replies when asked if Alexis Sanchez will sign new Arsenal deal
The Sport Review
Steven Gerrard sends open message to Liverpool fans about Philippe Coutinho
The Sport Review
Thierry Henry sends warning to Arsenal fans about Man United