Wales need to open up to build points against Italy
Wales’s inferior points difference means if they equal their record Six Nations victory in Rome, 30 points 10 years ago, they would have an advantage of nine over Ireland and five over England
Wales coaches Robert Howley and Warren Gatland chat ahead of their Six Nations encounter against Italy in Rome. Photograph: Getty Images
All Wales know as they prepare to start the final round of matches against Italy in Rome is that they have to win to remain in contention for the title. That is the only part of their destiny they are in control of: they could triumph by a point and receive the trophy, if a day late, for the third time in four years or they could romp home by 50 and then see Ireland or England overtake them on points difference.
Wales have developed the ability under their head coach, Warren Gatland, to win matches that have something on them: the 2011 World Cup semi-final against France was an exception, but they did play the final hour with 14 men after Sam Warburton was sent off.
Their game, based on squeezing opponents, winning penalties up front and on the floor to gain territory and keeping risk to a minimum, coupled with selflessness in defence and collective understanding, is suited for the one-off occasion. That makes it different for them because it is, unless Ireland and England find the ascent too steep, likely to be about more than just winning.
Wales’s markedly inferior points difference to their two main rivals means that if they equal their record Six Nations victory in Rome, 30 points 10 years ago, they would have an advantage of nine over Ireland and five over England. The more the merrier Wales will be as they sit and watch the rest of the day play out.
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Wales have to use Sydney 2013 as their template, winning the match through their forwards and leaving it to the backs to decide the margin. If they throw the ball around from the start they will probably toss away their chances of the title: Italy are ranked 14th in the world for a reason, suffering from an ageing population and without a reliable goal-kicker, but they showed at Twickenham last month that they will happily join in when a match turns Barbarian with the likes of Edoardo Gori and Luca Morisi adept at exploiting space.
Wales scoring 50 and conceding 25 would be self-defeating. On their way to the title in 2008, they played Italy in the third round at home.
The first half was tight and their advantage at the break was five points but after wearing down their opponents, they used the accelerator and the 47-8 victory was their biggest in the Six Nations under Gatland until 14-man Scotland collapsed in Cardiff this time last year.
That is the approach Wales will take , although the absence of their leading props on both sides of the scrum will give Italy succour. They have scored five tries in their four matches this year with none coming from a wing: it is 1995 since they went through a championship campaign without a try from one of their wide men and it will mean Dan Biggar lying flatter at some point.
Wales have recovered from their opening night defeat to England largely through their defence and, another Gatland trademark, bloody-mindedness. Saturday is more a trip into the unknown, a pushing of boundaries, moving away from their source of comfort.
That assumes Italy will make up their first-up tackles, initially at least, and not immediately collapse like a battered beach deck-chair. Wales have it in them to make Ireland and England have to win by considerably more than a penalty, even if they like to pretend otherwise, and at 6-1 for the title they look a reasonable investment. Guardian Service