Preview: Italy v Wales

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 08:51
Large sergio parisse  alun wyn jones 2017

SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: Italy head coach Conor O'Shea is fully focussed on his side given their all throughout the competition, starting with Wales on Sunday.

Italy have not had the best Six Nations record over the years and O'Shea knows full well about the enormity of the task that lies ahead.

 "The goal of this tournament for Italy? I can tell you is not to win the tournament. We must focus on our performance, so that we can be the best Italian side. Above all, we must ensure we produce high-performances for four hundred minutes - to be in the game until the end in each of the five matches.
 
"We want a great, great performance this weekend to make everyone understand that we are on the right track. We are changing, it is possible to change our history - the sport is very strange and changes very quickly.

"We know where we want to go in the long term, but we must also think about the short term - this Six Nations - and the medium term, to increase the competitiveness ahead of the World Cup [in 2019].

"Wales is a great team, with fantastic forwards and individuality with the likes of [George] North, [Jamie] Roberts and [Leigh] Halfpenny. They are a group with great skills, an incredible physicality and a particularly large squad.

"We know that the last two games against them have been very difficult for us, but we will focus on ourselves and on the work to be done. We have to impose our game plan on them and, at the end of the eighty minutes, we'll see.

"I look at our bench and I think we have a really good team. Men like [Leonardo] Ghiraldini, [Joshua] Furno, [Michele] Campagnaro and [Francesco] Minto will have a major impact when they enter the field with their experience," O'Shea said.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Captain Sergio Parisse, claiming his 122nd cap for Italy, is always someone to keep an eye on in every facet of play while Edoardo Gori and Carlo Canna's partnership will make for interesting viewing. Giovanbattista Venditti can cause havoc if he is given too much space while Tommaso Benvenuti is an elusive runner.

For Wales: The boot of Dan Biggar has been and will once again be crucial to Wales applying pressure onto their opponents while captain Alun Wyn Jones is always a handful at line-out time. Jonathan Davies can cause plenty of headaches in midfield but an eye must be kept on George North to see if he shows any effects of his numerous concussions.

Head to head: Italy's new backrow forward combination will need to impress as they the Welsh trio have been menacing at the breakdown. The halfback pairings are at opposite ends of the scale, Wales has the more settled combination while Italy are experimenting with a new partnership. Traditionally, Italy have done well at the setpieces but they will have a tough task on their hands in this one.

Recent results:

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
2009: Wales won 20-15, Rome
2008: Wales won 47-8, Cardiff

Prediction: Both sides have made five changes, mainly in their forwards, from their previous Test. Italy are boasting a new halfback pairing, which could prove to be their downfall as their opponents have opted for experience. The Italians could pull off a major upset if they are to find their rhythm early in the match. However, Wales are too settled and should claim victory by about 14 points.

Teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Maxime Mata M'Banda, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 George Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.

Date: Sunday, February 5
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT)
Expected weather: A moderate wind will be accompanied by heavy rain and a high of 14.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

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SIX NATIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
England 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0
France 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0