Preview: Wales v Italy
SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: New coach Wayne Pivac wants Wales to expand their attacking game but has urged fans to be patient when the reigning Grand Slam champions begin their Six Nations title defence against Italy.
Saturday’s match at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium will be the former Scarlets’ boss first full international in charge following a 43-33 non-cap win over the Barbarians in November.
Pivac has succeeded Warren Gatland, who won three Grand Slams and saw Wales to two World Cup semi-finals during a 12-year reign that included a last-four defeat by eventual champions South Africa at Japan 2019.
Yet for all the success they enjoyed under Pivac’s fellow New Zealander, there remains a sense that Wales have not made the most of their attacking talents – something they must do if they are to be genuine contenders for the next World Cup in France.
For example, Wales managed just 10 tries in five matches during last season’s Six Nations clean sweep.
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“We’re working hard on our attack, but it’s going to take a little bit of time,” said Pivac.
“Some of the skill-sets need to improve, but where there is a will, there is a way.
“At the moment the boys are very willing, so it’s a pretty good start in terms of training.”
Italy at home would appear to be an ideal match for a new coach’s Six Nations debut.
The Azzurri are on a run of 22 successive defeats in the tournament, a winless run stretching back five years.
They also conceded 22 tries during last year’s latest wooden spoon campaign.
“Everyone starts on zero, the Italians are in front of us and we have to knock them over,” said Pivac.
This is worth a listen…
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 30, 2020
Even so, it will be a major surprise if they provide a stern test of George North’s midfield defence now that Pivac has moved the powerhouse wing to centre after Jonathan Davies was ruled out of the entire Championship because of a knee injury.
This weekend’s match will see North winning his 92nd cap for Wales but making only his fifth appearance in midfield.
“George played a couple of games at centre for the Ospreys, which was great for us,” said Pivac. “Jonathan has got the long-term injury at the moment and somebody is going to get the opportunity to play there.
“George gets the first crack at it, and from what we are seeing, we’re very happy.”
New Zealand-born wing Johnny McNicholl, qualified on residency grounds, makes his Test debut.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) January 30, 2020
For Italy, 20 years on from becoming the ‘sixth nation’, the quest for respect continues.
A World Cup where Georgia and Russia again showed their potential reopened the debate about whether the Six Nations should remain a closed shop and talk of promotion and relegation will only intensify if Italy endure another winless Championship.
Caretaker coach Franco Smith has two flyhalves in his starting XV, with Tommaso Allan at No.10 and Carlo Canna at inside centre.
Benetton lock Niccolo Cannone makes his Test debut while hooker Luca Bigi captains Italy in place of Sergio Parisse, the back-row great not even in the 23 as his career nears its end.
“We have worked hard on and off the pitch to build synergy between the staff and the players,” said Smith.
“We know our potential and what we can give
“I have faith in the team and can’t wait to see them on the pitch against Wales,” he added.
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Players to watch:
For Wales: Geroge North at centre has raised a few eyebrows. North is best known for his lethal attacks on the wing and how he’s going fare in the midfield could be interesting to watch. New Zealand-born Johnny McNicholl, earning his first international cap, will relish the chance to prove himself. In the pack, the return of No.8 Taulupe Faletau is certainly a welcome factor especially in the absence of impact player Josh Navidi.
For Italy: Fullback Matteo Minozzi returns two years after being nominated for 2018 Player of the Championship following five electrifying performances. The presence of two playmakers as Tommaso Allan starts at flyhalf with Carlo Canna at inside centre will be very intriguing. Meanwhile, hooker Luca Bigi’s leadership will have to assertive in place of the enigmatic Sergio Parisse.
Head to head: There will be plenty of talent roaming in the midfield in the form Wales’ George North (outside) and Hadleigh Parkes (inside) and Italy’s Luca Morisi (outside) and Carlo Canna (inside). The flyhalves will always play a key role in Test matches, Dan Biggar of Wales versus Tommaso Allan of Italy. Recently Biggar struggles with form under Warren Gatland, nonetheless, he continued to be a force for his Premiership side, and will hope to build on that when he faces the resilient Canna. In the packs, Taulupe Faletau and South African-born Abraham Steyn offer a lot in both No.8 jerseys.
2019: Wales won 26-15, Rome
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
Prediction: There may be some a glimpse of hope in the Italian camp however beating the defending champions Wales in Cardiff, sound like mission impossible. Thus, Wales win by 15 points.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 George North, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Nick Tompkins.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Niccolò Cannone, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Giosuè Zilocchi.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Dean Budd, 21 Giovanni Licata, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Jayden Hayward
Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Millennium Stadium Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.15 (15.15 Italian time; 14.15 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be cloudy with a high of 9°C and a low of 7°C.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)
AFP & @rugby365com