Wales v Italy - Teams and Predictions
NATIONS CUP, PLAYOFFS: Wales aim to bounce back from defeat to England last weekend and end the calendar year on a high when they welcome Italy to Llanelli on Saturday.
Wayne Pivac’s men have suffered seven defeats from their last eight matches and will face an Italy side who have impressed in recent weeks, despite losing both their Nations Cup ties.
The Azzurri were in contention at the hour mark against both Scotland and France and will be eager to put on a full 80-minute display at Parc y Scarlets.
Franco Smith has seen some stark improvements since he took over at the beginning of 2020 but will be determined to turn performances into results as they prepare for the upcoming Six Nations.
Italy’s Stephen Varney will make a first Test start against the land of his birth in the Nations Cup on Saturday, with Wales attack coach Stephen Jones saying there was a “lot to like” about the teenager’s game.
Scrumhalf Varney, now with English Premiership side Gloucester, was born and bred in Pembrokeshire but the 19-year-old qualified for the Azzurri through his mother Valeria.
The son of former Neath and Aberavon flank Adrian Varney, Stephen had a couple of outings for Scarlets West Under-16s but wasn’t selected to be part of their pathway.
Now, however, he will be a member of Italy’s run-on side at the region’s Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.
“He’s breaking into the side, he’s obviously a good young talent,” Jones told reporters on Friday.
“He was with the Italian Under-20s last year. There was a lot to like about his game.
“His speed to the breakdown is good, he’s plenty of energy and he likes to orchestrate play.”
‘Play with speed’
Meanwhile, former Wales flyhalf Jones urged the hosts to add more pace to their game as they looked to end 2020 by boosting their try count in the Nations Cup fifth-place play-off.
Wales have scored just three tries in three tournament encounters and didn’t manage one against Ireland.
In February, Wales hammered Italy 42-10 in the Six Nations and anything other than a similarly emphatic win is unlikely to ease the pressure on head coach Wayne Pivac following a run of seven defeats in their last eight Tests.
And with George North at outside centre, and Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit on the wings, Italy may have enough tough day in west Wales.
“It is really important to have quick ruck ball because then you play against teams that are on the back foot with a disorganised defensive line,” said Jones.
“The ideal vision is we have to play with speed. It’s as simple as that. We have got to move ball quickly and identify where the space is on the pitch.”
With defences dominant during the competition and many games featuring protracted tactical kicking, fears have been expressed that modern international rugby is becoming an ever-more dull spectacle.
But amid calls for wholesale rule changes, Jones said: “I understand the frustration that is out there.
“Ultimately, there are 15 people that are trying to shut you down and stop you playing and take your space and time away.
“We have got to make sure we counteract that. That’s our job as attack coaches, isn’t it?”
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Italy to ‘show their worth’
Despite losing 17-28 to Scotland in Rome and 5-36 to France in Paris, Italy have been producing very noteworthy performances under the guidance of South African Franco Smith.
Their game against Fiji was cancelled after 29 members of the Pasific Islanders’ squad tested positive for coronavirus.
Despite their tough opponents, Italy head coach Franco Smith is still eager to end the tournament on a high note.
“We want to end the tournament in the best possible way,” said Franco Smith.
“We have a new opportunity to be able to take to the field and try to show our worth.
“Wales are an experienced team and need no introduction. The focus must be on our performance.”
— Italrugby (@Federugby) December 4, 2020
Players to Watch
For Wales: The most significant change is probable regular wing George North at centre in place of Nick Tompkins. North can be lethal outwide and if he can transfer that energy to the midfield he will be dangerous. The return of Liam Williams at fullback for Leigh Halfpenny is another feat that can cause havoc to defence. In the pack, Justin Tipuric returns from injury to partner James Botham and Taulupe Faletau in the back row.
For Italy: The 19-year-old scrumhalf Stephen Varney, who get his first start for the Azzurri against the country of his birth, is one to keep a close eye on. Australian-born wing Montanna ‘Monty’ Ioane will also make his debut and is another player full of potential.
Head to head:
A pair of dynamic fullbacks will do battle on Saturday. In the red corner, Liam Williams will earn his 67th cap for Wales in a jersey which sees him at his full-flowing best. In the blue corner, Zebre’s Jacopo Trulla will look to replicate the type of form the 20-year-old from Vicenza displayed when he was called up by Franco Smith.
Both fullbacks possess fast feet and dazzling runs in their locker of tricks and fireworks should be expected, with Williams relishing the prospect of representing his country on club soil. In combination with Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, Wales possess a frightening back three full of pace and panache. Italy’s defensive line will have their work cut out in Llanelli.
Prediction: Wales to win by 20 points
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James Botham, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Jonah Holmes.
Italy: 15 Jacopo Trulla; 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Montanna Ioane; 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney; 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Niccolò Cannone, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Giosue Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Simone Ferrari, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Cristian Stoian, 20 Michele Lamaro, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori
Date: Saturday, December 5
Venue: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
Kick-off: 16.45 (17.45 Italian time; 16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Scattered showers with a high of 7°C and a low of -1°C.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce and Alex Ruiz
TMO: Pascal Gauzere
Source: AFP & @AutumnNations