Props Rob Evans and Aaron Jarvis come into the pack at the expense of injured duo Gethin Jenkins (hamstring) and Samson Lee (ruptured Achilles), as they did off the bench in the 23-16 win over Ireland last Saturday, and they pack down either side of Ospryes hooker Scott Baldwin.
It will be a first start for Scarlets loosehead Evans, who made his debut off the bench in Cardiff last week, while tighthead Jarvis returns to the starting XV after deputising for Lee against Scotland last month (pictured above).
Warren Gatland has resisted any urge to tinker with his starting XV as Wales go into “Super Saturday” with a slim chance of claiming their third RBS 6 Nations title in four years, knowing a big win over Jacques Brunel’s side would give them a chance of overhauling England and Ireland.
The challenge to us is to go to Italy and win, and try and win by a significant margin, but we know that’s an extremely tough ask and the first job will be to simply get the result.
With Italy possessing a dangerous pack, and reeling from a six-day turnaround off the back of a 29-0 home defeat to France at the Stadio Olimpico, Gatland has opted to retain his forwards from the impressive win that ended Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes, so Luke Charteris continues at lock alongside Alun Wyn Jones, with Dan Lydiate, captain Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau in the back row.
The backline also remains changed for the third successive game, so the Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb show will be pulling the strings as half-back, supported by George North, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny in the back three.
Racing Métro’s Jamie Roberts keeps his place at inside centre, despite some calls for the inclusion of Scott Williams, with Clermont Auvergne’s Jonathan Davies keeping his place at outside centre.
“It was great to get the result we wanted in front of our home supporters last weekend and to give us a chance going into the last round of action,” Gatland said.
“Obviously it’s disappointing for Gethin and Samson, but Rob and Aaron stepped up well last weekend, and we expect the same on Saturday.
“The challenge to us is to go to Italy and win, and try and win by a significant margin, but we know that’s an extremely tough ask, and the first job will be to simply get the result.
“Italy build their confidence around the scrum and lineout drive, and that’s an area we are going to have to compete strongly in at the start of the match.”
Scarlets captain Ken Owens returns to the Wales match-day squad for the first time since South Africa as he replaces Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard, who went off near the end of the Ireland win for concussion checks.
Five-times capped loosehead prop Rhys Gill, who was called up to train with the squad on Monday, is drafted on to the bench as cover for Evans, with Cardiff Blues tighthead Scott Andrews also providing front-row cover.
Scarlets lock Jake Ball and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric again cover the second and back rows, respectively, while it is an all-Scarlets affair for the backline replacements as Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams are joined by Gareth Davies, who is given the nod over Mike Phillips to cover scrum-half.
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).
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