PREVIEW: Italy v Wales
SIX NATIONS ROUND TWO: Conor O’Shea’s Italy are desperate to pick up where they left off against Scotland last weekend when they take on Wales for their second Six Nations game of the campaign, looking to avoid pushing their losing streak in the tournament to 19 matches.
Three late unanswered tries in Murrayfield have given O’Shea’s perennial losers reason for optimism, despite the 20-33 defeat.
“Let’s pick up from the last ten minutes against Scotland where we did some good things in attack,” urged Treviso flyhalf Tommaso Allan.
“We’ve analysed our mistakes this week and worked hard to improve ourselves in the various phases of the game.
“It will be a difficult match, Wales are a physical team with fast players who can move the ball well, but we can collect a good result. As always there will be a battle.”
The pressure is mounting on former Harlequins coach O’Shea, who took over in March 2016, but who has yet to win a Six Nations match.
Italy’s last win in the Six Nations was before O’Shea’s time – against Scotland in Edinburgh in February 2015.
The 49-year-old former Ireland international’s overall record stands at 23 losses and six wins from 29 games.
New Zealand-born lock Dean Budd defended O’Shea’s tactics.
“We don’t go onto the pitch to suffer, to defend for 80 minutes, but it’s true that we launch our counterattacks from defence,” said 32-year-old Budd.
“We want to attack, to have fun, to fight for our fans.
“Conor wants us to be competitive. With his staff he puts us in a position to give our best on the field, maybe it does not always work, but this is his way of thinking.
“It means that we know how to play rugby against a strong team. It’s up to us to raise the level of our game.”
O’Shea has made two changes from last weekend, with Edoardo Padovani starting on the wing and Wasps’ Michele Campagnaro moving to centre with Treviso prop Nicola Quaglio replacing Andrea Lovotti for just a third start.
The side will continue to be led by the veteran Sergio Parisse, who broke the competition’s record for appearances at Murrayfield.
Italy have beaten the Welsh twice, both times in Rome, in 2003 and 2007.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has made ten changes and one positional switch from the side that came from 0-16 down at half-time to beat France 24-19 in Paris last week.
Jonathan Davies will captain Wales for the first time with regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones on the bench.
Victory for Wales at the Stadio Olimpico would make it 11 successive wins and equal their all-time unbeaten record set between 1907 and 1910.
Gatland said: “We have made a similar number of changes to what we did last year, but it is all about opportunity for these players. We have had a squad of 31 training together, replicating the Rugby World Cup, and it is important they get game time.
“It is a great opportunity for Jon as captain. He has a huge amount of experience, is a great leader and it is a great honour for him to lead his country.
“Italy will be hurting after last weekend but they are a different proposition in Rome.”
Players to watch:
For Italy: Centre Michele Campagnaro will be a threat out wide with his pace and power, while fullback Jayden Hayward is a good exponent of open space. Flyhalf Tommaso Allan will have a big job on his hands trying to dictate play in Rome. The Italians will have plenty of muscle up front in form of Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Dean Budd. There is also plenty of grunt in the loose trio which consists of seasoned campaigner Sergio Parisse.
For Wales: Wing Josh Adams is in fine form heading into Saturday’s match, while centre and captain Jonathan Davies is one of the best in the business in his position. After a great second-half display off the bench against France, flyhalf Dan Biggar starts in Rome and he will make life difficult for the Italians. In the pack, Josh Navidi’s versatility in the back row is proving to be a great asset for the Welsh.
Head to head: There will be plenty of talent roaming in the midfield in the form of Michele Campagnaro and Jonathan Davies. They should have a fun time trying to contain each other. The flyhalves will always play a key role in Test matches and the Welsh will probably have the upper hand with Dan Biggar running the show, while Italy’s Tommaso Allan is not feared amongst the other nations. In the packs, Sergio Parisse and Josh Navidi offer a lot in both No.8 jerseys.
2018: Wales won 38-14, Cardiff
2017: Wales won 33-7, Rome
2016: Wales won 67-14, Cardiff
2015: Wales won 23-19, Cardiff
2015: Wales won 61-20, Rome
2014: Wales won 23-15, Cardiff
2013: Wales won 26-9, Rome
2012: Wales won 24-3, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-16, Rome
2010: Wales won 33-10, Cardiff
Prediction: Italy will fancy their chances of causing an upset after Wales made a number of changes for Saturday’s match. Wales still have a lot of quality in their depth and they should take it by seven points.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse (Captain), 7 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 David Sisi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Hallam Amos.
Date: Saturday, February 9
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 17.45 (16.45 UK & Ireland time; 16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy with a high of 15°C and a low of 8°C. There will be a slight breeze of 11 km/h.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
AFP & @rugby365com
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