Six Nations preview: Wales v Italy
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 11/03/18 12:50pm
Round 4 of the Six Nations Championship will come to a close on Sunday when Wales welcome Italy to the Principality Stadium.
Conor O'Shea's men are going in search of their first Six Nations victory of the campaign while for Wales' much-changed outfit it's their chance to show what they're made of.
Wales' Round 3 loss at the Aviva Stadium had a similar pattern to their defeat at Twickenham the week before.
The pattern was that it took them too long to get into their groove during the encounter. Warren Gatland's side finished the game on the front foot, however they ran out of time to steal victory.
The windows to make wholesale personnel changes in the Test arena are often few and far between, however, Gatland has grasped this one and this encounter is a chance for those selected to prove that they can find the required level early on in the match and sustain it for a full 80.
O'Shea's Italy go into this encounter off the back of another Six Nations loss - their 15th in a row - and must find a way to reverse that trend in the near future.
The fact is that the Azzurri's performance levels are improving, but their problem is that the other teams in the competition are also taking steps forwards.
They're now putting tries on the board and constructing strong strike moves, though defensively life remains tough.
Shutting out and containing their Six Nations opponents remains a challenge and one that must be address moving forwards.
These two sides last met in Rome in last year's Six Nations Championship and Wales overturned a half-time deficit to deliver a 33-7 victory.
Edoardo Gori's 29th-minute try gave Italy a 7-3 advantage at the break but three Leigh Halfpenny penalties in 10 second-half minutes put Wales in front for the first time.
The Azzurri's prop Andrea Lovotti was sent to the sin-bin on the hour-mark and Wales capitalised with tries from Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams.
George North broke clear and scored their third try with two minutes left. On the final play of the game Liam Williams almost secured a bonus-point however he lost control of the ball attempting to ground it.
Wales: James Davies
The 26-year-old is set to make his eagerly anticipated international debut and is one of 10 Scarlets players in Wales' match-day squad.
The flanker's athleticism and dynamism makes him stand out from others in his position in open play and he couples that with outstanding breakdown nous.
A back-row of Justin Tipuric, Davies and Taulupe Faletau should pose Italy all kinds of issues and the Scarlet will be at the very heart of that.
Italy: Sebastian Negri
Italy's flanker has been one of their most consistent performers in this Championship and is certainly making a name for himself.
Only CJ Stander has made more carries than Negri and only Bundee Aki has beaten more defenders so his contributions around the park are notable. On top of that his tackle percentage sits at 92% with 38 made and just two missed.
At just 23 years old he has plenty of years of international rugby ahead of him and should make his presence known in Cardiff.
Warren Gatland: "It is challenging making changes, but we have picked a really exciting team and Sunday is their chance.
"It is a great opportunity for Taulupe, he is a world class player, hugely experienced and this will be great for his development and we are looking forward to seeing those leadership qualities come through."
Conor O'Shea: "I am happy we are seeing progress but I am obviously desperate to win because that is what you're judged on.
"We are happy we are going in the right direction but we want to win.
"We are doing a lot of the right things, we have put a lot of systems in place and we are blooding a lot of young guys and a team we are building for the future but it is easy to talk like that - we want to win games.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 George North, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Elliot Dee, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Bradley Davies, 5 Cory Hill, 6 Justin Tipuric, 7 James Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau (c).
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi; 1-Andrea Lovotti, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Simone Ferrari, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Dean Budd, 6 Sebastian Negri, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 8 Sergio Parisse (c).
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward.