Resurgent Wales tackle Italy in Rome
February 24, 2011
Wales coach Warren Gatland saw his side return to winning ways last time out but will he have further cause to smile in Rome this weekend? © Getty Images
Wales will look to further their recent revival and heap Six Nations woe on Italy when the two sides clash at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome on Saturday.
Warren Gatland's side ended a run of eight Tests without a win with victory against Scotland at Murrayfield last time out - a result that went some way to resurrecting a Championship campaign that began with defeat to England. The result also eased the pressure that was threatening to undermine their bid for World Cup glory later in the year but failure to build on that win against a limited Italian side will cause further concern.
Italy began this year's Championship strongly and went close to an historic victory over Ireland only to fall agonisingly short. And that gutsy showing was a distant memory as they were swept aside by a rampant England at Twickenham in their most recent outing. That defeat underlined the desperate lack of depth available to coach Nick Mallett and leaves them firmly rooted to the bottom of the table and odds-on for yet another Wooden Spoon.
Home comforts and a desire to restore some pride are sure to lift the hosts but they face a Welsh side who have rediscovered the winning habit and who are well aware of the potential dangers that lie in Rome.
Italy - Player to Watch: Aussie-born fly-half Kris Burton is handed the play-making duties once again but it is his defensive steel will be as equally vital to a strong showing for Italy.
Italy - Team News: Luciano Orquera drops to the bench with Burton taking his place at fly-half. Treviso's Robert Barbieri joins captain Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni in the back-row, taking over from Valerio Bernabo. Racing Metro lock Santiago Dellape earns a start and will partner Quintin Geldenhuys in the second-row, replacing Aironi's Carlo del Fava. Benetton Treviso scrum-half Fabio Semenzato will make his first start in front of the home crowd after making his Azzurri debut against England earlier this month, while on the bench there is a recall for hooker Carlo Festuccia in place of the injured Fabio Ongaro.
Wales - Player to Watch: Centre Jamie Roberts was back at his direct-running best against Scotland and will no doubt relish the chance to pepper the Italian defence.
Wales - Team News: James Hook returns to the Wales midfield as the result of an injury to Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies. In the only change from their victory over Scotland two weeks ago Hook shifts to outside-centre, the position he filled during last year's Championship, to win his 50th cap, with Stephen Jones recalled at fly-half.
Key Battle: Wales' back-row trio of Danny Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones were in superb form against the Scots and their industry is likely to keep their Italian rivals Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri and Sergio Parisse busy most of the afternoon.
Trivia: Wales' half-back pairing of Stephen Jones (103) and Mike Phillips (51) boast a total of 154 Test caps. Italy's Kris Burton (6) and scrum-half Fabio Semenzato (1) have only 7 to their name.
Stats: There were only three points between these sides when they met in Rome in 2007 (Italy 23-20 Wales) and just five when they went head to head at the Flaminio Stadium two years later (Italy 15-20 Wales).
"I never thought we would play a game like that after the previous two weeks and I never thought we could be so poor in the one-on-one situations. I know we can play better than that and we're looking forward to trying to put it right against Wales." - Italy coach Nick Mallett backs his side to bounce back from their mauling against England
"James, in the past, has done a great job for us in the centre. He is familiar playing 13 for us and it gives Stephen a good opportunity against Italy. Stephen knows he's under a bit of pressure in that position and I think he'll respond to it." - Wales coach Warren Gatland reflects on his team selection.
The Odds: Do you think that a revitalised Wales will put Italy to the sword in Rome? Bet365 will give you 66/1 if you think the visitors will score an emphatic victory to match England's triumph over the Azzurri earlier this month.
Fantasy: England's Chris Ashton has been a class apart this year in terms of the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby game but Wales' Shane Williams offered a reminder of his class last time out - maybe time to change your line-up?
Prediction: A battling victory over Scotland will have injected some much-needed confidence into the Wales squad and they will kick on against an Italy side still reeling from a lesson at the hands of England.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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