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Italy v Wales - Teams and Prediction

SIX NATIONS, ROUND FOUR: Italy are in the uncommon position of being favourites for a Six Nations match as they host troubled Wales in Rome on Saturday battling to avoid yet another Six Nations wooden spoon.

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Kieran Crowley’s young side have lost all three of their matches in this year’s tournament but have impressed on each occasion, running holders France and Grand Slam-chasing Ireland close on home turf.

They face a winless Wales which almost went on strike over player contracts before losing to England last time out and has lost 12 times in 15 matches.

Italy have delighted their long-suffering fans with exciting rugby this year and are a point above the bottom team, meaning a win for the Azzurri would all but guarantee Wales finish bottom.

Few would back against a repeat of last year’s dramatic triumph over the Welsh. Italy then beat Australia in November.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the favourites or not the favourites, the game is still the same,” Crowley told reporters on Thursday.

“It’s another Test match, it’s another Six Nations game, someone told me that some bookmakers in England still had Wales as slight favourites.

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“All we’re focussed on is looking at areas against Ireland that did not go well for us and improving those areas, and if we can improve in those areas then hopefully that will give us a positive result.”

Counting against Italy is the absence of undoubted star player Ange Capuozzo, the creator of the last-gasp try which earned Italy their historic win over Wales last year.

No Capuozzo

Toulouse fullback Capuozzo will miss Italy’s final two matches against the Welsh and Scotland after picking up the injury during the Azzurri’s loss to Ireland a fortnight ago, and has been replaced by Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan.

The 23-year-old Capuozzo’s superb ball-carrying and dynamism has been a huge part of Italy’s game since he made his senior debut against Scotland in last year’s Six Nations.

Without Capuozzo, Italian Rugby Federation Marzio Innocente’s pre-tournament goal of winning “at least” two matches will be much harder to attain, but Crowley says he isn’t concerned.

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“That wasn’t my objective, it wasn’t the team’s objective. That was someone else’s objective,” added Crowley.

“Obviously, it’s feasible because we’ve got two games to go so the fact that it is there means it is feasible.”

Wales coach Warren Gatland admitted after the defeat to England two weeks ago that the wooden spoon was a possibility after failing to stop a dismal run which stretches back into the reign of predecessor Wayne Pivac.

Gatland replaced Pivac in December in the hope he could recreate some of the magic which in his first spell as coach between 2007 and 2019 brought Wales four Six Nations titles – of which three were Grand Slams – and two World Cup semi-finals.

The next World Cup starts on September 8 in France.

“That’s got to be our focus. Part of this Six Nations is about us thinking about the next six or seven months,” said Gatland.

“We’re not miles away, but it’s frustrating and it’s hurting us. It’s not the opposition hurting us, we’re hurting ourselves.

“When we get to the World Cup, the hard work we’ll have put in and the improvement we’ll get in terms of strength, power and fitness will have a big impact on the performance of this side moving forward.”

*Article continues below…

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Players to watch

For Italy: The big news regarding the team is the absence of star fullback Ange Capuozzo. The Toulouse star has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a nagging shoulder injury. The 23-year-old will be replaced by Tommaso Allan, who has a chance to prove himself. Meanwhile, playmaker Paolo Garbisi retains the No.10 jersey. The flyhalf delivered a noteworthy performance against Ireland and would want to back it up with another impressive show. Given the absence of Capuozzo, the pivot needs to apply some pressure on the attack as well as dictate play with his boot. In the pack, captain Michele Lamaro, along with Lorenzo Cannone and Sebastian Negri will need to be physical at the breakdown.

For Wales: Scrumhalf Rhys Webb will make his first start for Wales in more than two years at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The 34-year-old Webb last played for Wales against England in November 2020 and if he impresses in this campaign he could feature in a first World Cup. Mason Grady, who won his first senior international cap against England at Principality Stadium in round three, and Joe Hawkins continue in the Wales midfield. In the front, Wyn Jones returns at loose-head prop to join captain Ken Owens (hooker) and Tomas Francis (tight-head prop) in the front row, while the back row of Jac Morgan (blind-side flanker), Justin Tipuric (open-side flank) and Taulupe Faletau (No. 8) will put in an impressive shift if they want to avoid another shocking defeat to Italy.

Head-to-Head

Italy v Wales - Teams and Prediction

Last 10 encounters: 

Italy v Wales - Teams and Prediction

Prediction

@rugby365com: Italy by three points.

Teams: 

Italy: 15 Tommaso Allan, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Pierre Bruno, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Edoardo Iachizzi, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Luca Morisi.

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric,6 Jac Morgan, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin,17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Rhys Davies,
20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 George North, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit

Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.15 (14.15 UK time & GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly sunny with a high of 16°C and a low of 9°C.
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

AFP & @rugby365com

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