Wales big boys to deny Italy an unprecedented third home win
ITALY v WALES:Though Wales suffered eight defeats in a row before defeating France two weeks ago, one quality they did not lose in their barren eight-month run was their unity.
That was shown this month by the manner in which Ryan Jones, who was abruptly stripped of the captaincy in 2010, returned to lead his country at a moment of need in Paris and by the selfless way the player he took the armband from, Sam Warburton, accepted the decision to field the same starting line-up in Rome today.
For all that Wales’s head coach, Warren Gatland, is on sabbatical to focus on the Lions tour to Australia, he is with the squad in spirit.
One of his earliest demands after taking over at the end of 2007 was that every player should put the needs of the squad ahead of his own, especially when it came to dealing with disappointment.
Jones did that when he lost the captaincy, never showing self-pity. Warburton, who will be on the bench at the Olympic Stadium, has this season suffered the first real dip in his career, finding out that memories are short in the social media world and tolerance thresholds low.
Bloodymindedness was enough for Wales in a dull encounter in Paris. They kept James Hook on the bench throughout and the days when they looked to the outhalf to unpick defences with guile and craft are gone.
“Big is bountiful” is their motto now and it should be enough to see off an Italy side that will be without their talisman, Sergio Parisse, who is suspended for the rest of the Six Nations.
Italy are looking for an unprecedented third successive home win in the championship after beating France in the opening round and Scotland on the final day of the 2012 tournament.
But the momentum they built up in finishing the stronger against Les Bleus was dissipated the following week when, showing misplaced confidence, they collapsed tamely in Edinburgh.
Mixing it physically
Wales are happy mixing it physically and their muscular three-quarter line will test the defensive aptitude of the Italian midfield, but they have not developed their game since winning the grand slam last year.
With their final match at home to England, Wales believe they have a chance of retaining the title for the first time since the 1970s but, if England travel to the Millennium Stadium with four straight wins, their points difference is likely to be vastly superior by then.
Wales’s ambition can be measured in results, not performances.
They are vulnerable because they do not aim high. They lamented a run of close defeats by Australia last year but a contributory factor was Wales’s inability to create when it mattered.
They also place emphasis on winning collisions but they need something more in tight affairs.
Hook is part of a strong, experienced bench and Wales need to stop wasting his talent. He should be at the peak of his powers but he is a victim of the game’s obsession with power and size and he is likely to feature this afternoon only if Wales are trailing.
Like Warburton he has masked his disappointment and his time will come again.
Italy v Wales How they’ll line out
(Racing Metro) Andrea Masi
(Aironi) Giovanbattista Venditti
(Treviso) Tommaso Benvenuti
(Clermont Auvergne) Gonzalo Canale
(Treviso) Luke McLean
(Treviso) Kristopher Burton
(Treviso) Edoardo Gori
(Racing Metro) Andrea Lo Cicero
(Treviso) Leonardo Ghiraldini
(Leicester, capt) Martin Castrogiovanni
(Treviso) Antonio Pavanello
(Treviso) Francesco Minto
(Treviso) Alessandro Zanni
(Parma) Simone Favaro
(Treviso) Ratu Manoa Vosawai
Replacements: D Giazzon (Aironi), A De Marchi (Aironi), L Cittadini (Treviso), Q Geldenhuys (Viadana), P Derbyshire (Treviso), T Botes (Treviso), L Orquera (Aironi), G Garcia (Treviso).
Lee Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues)
Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues)
Jonathan Davies (Scarlets)
Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues)
George North (Scarlets)
Dan Biggar (Ospreys)
Mike Phillips (Bayonne)
Gethin Jenkins (Toulon)
Richard Hibbard (Ospreys)
Adam Jones (Ospreys)
Andrew Coombs (Newport Dragons)
Ian Evans (Ospreys)
Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
Toby Faletau (Dragons)
Replacements: K Owens ((Scarlets), P James (Bath), C Mitchell (Exeter), AW Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets)