Italy ‘desperate’ to end championship losing streak in Cardiff
Conor O’Shea knows his team will have to keep possession and tighten their set-pieces
Italy manager Conor O’Shea: ““I am happy we are seeing progress but I am desperate to win because that is what you are judged on.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Wales v Italy
Principality Stadium, Sunday, 3.0pm, TV3, BBC 1
Conor O’Shea is one of rugby’s glass-half-full characters, but even his ebullience in adversity is being tested by Italy’s dire run in the Six Nations.
They face Wales in Cardiff tomorrow looking to end a 15-match losing streak in the championship, a sequence that stretches back to before the 2015 World Cup.
Seven of the 12 victories they have accumulated in their 19 seasons in the tournament have come against Scotland, whose revival in the last couple of seasons has left the wooden spoon barely contested. O’Shea is still looking for his first Six Nations win in his second campaign as Italy’s coach; they are improving, but not at the rate of their rivals.
“I am happy we are seeing progress but I am desperate to win because that is what you are judged on,” he said. “We are doing a lot of the right things, blooding young players, putting systems in place and building for the future, but we want to win games.
“It’s hard because this is the very highest level and we are having to make changes that should have been made a long time ago.”
Italy have won only twice away in the championship, at Murrayfield in 2007 and 2015, although they drew in Cardiff 12 years ago when Wales were going through one of the interregnums which were common before Warren Gatland took over. O’Shea, who played for Ireland under Gatland, is trying to do the same but by building from the bottom up rather than the top down.
Half a chance
Gatland has given Italy half a chance by making 10 changes from the team who lost in Dublin. The secondrow Cory Hill is the only survivor in the pack as Wales look to gauge their strength before next year’s World Cup as well as rest players, with the final match against France following six days later.
Wales have tended to struggle when making mass changes when they play a second-tier nation in the autumn, with new players slow to adapt, but the players have been in camp for six weeks and the starting lineup are geared for a fast, open game.
Two openside flankers are in the backrow, where James Davies makes his Test debut having wondered if his chance had gone after the 27-year-old’s form for the Scarlets was previously unrewarded.
Italy have scored the same number of tries as Wales – seven – but they have conceded 18 compared with eight, and are especially vulnerable to set-piece moves and the parts coaching cannot reach.
“We know we are dangerous if we have the ball,” O’Shea said. “Our goal is to increase our possession. That means making sure our set-pieces are solid. Our mindset will be the same as it has been, which is to hold on to the ball.
“Our mindset from the word go has been to hold the ball and that is the mindset we will go out with against Wales. We are moving in the right direction but it is about getting victories.”
WALES: L Williams (Saracens); G North (Northampton), O Watkin (Ospreys), H Parkes (Scarlets), S Evans (Scarlets); G Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), G Davies (Scarlets); N Smith (Ospreys), E Dee (Dragons), T Francis (Exeter), C Hill (Dragons), B Davies (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), J Davies (Scarlets), T Faletau (Bath, capt). Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), R Evans (Scarlets), S Lee (Scarlets), S Davies (Cardiff Blues), E Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), A Davies (Scarlets), R Patchell (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Scarlets).
ITALY: M Minozzi (Zebre); T Benvenuti (Benetton), G Bisegni (Zebre), T Castello (Zebre), M Bellini (Zebre); T Allan (Benetton), M Violi (Zebre); A Lovotti (Zebre), L Ghiraldini (Toulouse), S Ferrari (Benetton), A Zanni (Benetton), D Budd (Benetton), S Negri (Benetton), M Mbanda (Zebre), S Parisse (Stade Francais, capt). Replacements: O Fabiani (Zebre), N Quaglio (Benetton), T Pasquali (Benetton), F Ruzza (Benetton), G Licata (Fiamme Oro), G Palazzani (Zebre), C Canna (Zebre), J Hayward (Benetton).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).