There could be greater reliance on the boot
Italy play Wales in Rome on Saturday. The teams have each beaten France and each lost a match. This could just be an interesting encounter.
Judged by the first round of the Six Nations, Italy would be reckoned the winning side after beating France in Rome while Wales were well beaten by Ireland in Cardiff. Judged by the second round. Wales would be reckoned the stronger side after a convincing win over France in Paris while Italy were thrashed by Scotland in Edinburgh.
In other words anything is possible in the Roman rain on Saturday but there is one important factor. Sergio Parisse will not be playing. That is a huge statement when one considers Italy's chances.
Their calm, skilled, energetic captain will be missing. He is missing because he was found guilty of swearing at referee Laurent Cardona when his club Stade Français played Bordeaux-Bègles in Paris last weekend.
He was suspended for 30 days but denies the charge and has appealed. But the appeal cannot be heard till the Monday after the match and so, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, Parisse will not play against Wales.
That is the biggest blow Italy could have received. In his stead emotional Martín Castrogiovanni will captain the home side.
Apart from that change, Italy's clever coach, Jacques Brunel, has changed the halfbacks and a lock. The halfbacks who were on the bench last week come into the starting XV while last week's starters go to the bench. In addition Antonio Pavanello, starts at lock for the first time while Quintin Geldenhuys subsides to the bench.
Wales, on the other hand, have the comfort of an unchanged team. It would seem a distinct advantage for Wales.
Italy have been playing much more expansive rugby this Six Nations and against France their defence was strong and determined. Wales were even more so, denying France a try on their home soil. Against Italy, France scored two tries, as did Italy. Italy are quite capable of scoring tries, more so than in their stodgy past.
Italy will scrum and maul well and contest the tackles with spirit. But then so will Wales. Italy may have an edge in the front rows but it may not be significant. But Wales could well have a significant edge in the line-outs.
Out wide Wales would seem to have the advantage of both speed and strength and may well look to test the defences of Kristopher Burton and Gonzalo Canale.
If, as it expected, heavy rain falls on Rome, there could be greater reliance on the boot and it is just possible that Kristopher Burton will be better than Dan Biggar but it may just be Leigh Halfpenny who clinches the deal for Wales.
Players to watch:
For Italy: There is Andrea Masi at fullback and Alessandro Zanni on the flank. And you will want to see how well Manoa Vosawai fills Parisse's boots.
For Wales: Daring Leigh Halfpenny of Wales and those two big wings Alex Cuthbert and George North.
Head to head: Front row against front row - Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martín Castrogiovanni of Italy against Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones of Wales. They may be at opposite ends of the field but you can compare the skills of Andrea Masi of Italy and Leigh Halfpenny of Wales - how they cope with the high ball, what choices they make and how creative they are. In the forwards there will be the vital contest for the loose ball - Alessandro Zanni of Italy vs Justin Tipuric of Wales. There is always the contest between the two scrumhalves - the smaller, livelier, more enthusiastic but less experienced Edoardo Gori of Italy and big, strong, sullen Mike Phillips of Wales.
2012: Wales won 24-3, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-16, Rome
2010: Wales won 33-10, Cardiff
2009: Wales won 20-15, Rome
2008: Wales won 47-8, Cardiff
2007: Italy won 23-20, Rome
2006: Draw 18-18, Cardiff
2005: Wales won 38-8, Rome
2004: Wales won 44-10, Cardiff
2003: Wales won 27-15, Canberra (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: Wales coach Rob Howley said during the week that Italy were a tough proposition at home but, weather notwithstanding, we believe that Wales will win by more than 12 points.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Ratu Manoa Vosawai, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni (captain), 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera , 23 Gonzalo Garcia.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones (captain), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Alun-Wyn Jones, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.
Date: Saturday, 23 February 2013
Kick-off: 15.30 (14.30 GMT)
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Rome
Expected weather: There is an 80 percent chance of rain with a high of 12°C, dropping to 4°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
By Paul Dobson