Six Nations: Wales v Italy preview

Last updated: 2nd February 2014  

Mauro Bergamasco Rugby union Italy Zebre

Mauro Bergamasco: will become Italy's longest serving player

Wales celeb Six Nations 2013

Wales are aiming for a hat-trick of Six Nations titles

We can't go into our shells on the pitch, we have to go out and walk the walk.

Jamie Roberts
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Italy have faced Wales 21 times, losing 17 and winning just twice in Rome.

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Wales will be aiming to make an immediate statement of intent when they launch their bid for an unprecedented Six Nations hat-trick on Saturday.

Warren Gatland's side have been beaten just once in the last 10 games in the tournament and are red-hot favourites against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy this weekend.

The hosts will be looking to put down an early marker with sterner tests awaiting against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday week and then England at Twickenham in early March.

The Welsh have never lost at home to the Italians, winning eight of their nine meetings in the principality and drawing the other. They have also won the last three matches on home soil by a combined total of 83 points.

However, the Italians won't be pushovers, having opened up last year's tournament with a 23-18 win over France before finishing up by beating Ireland 22-15.

"We have to go out in our first game and express ourselves like champions," Wales centre Jamie Roberts said. "Warren has spoken about having a little bit of a strut in our stride and really being quite confident.

"We can't go into our shells on the pitch, we have to go out and walk the walk."

Warburton on bench

Regular captain Sam Warburton is on the bench because he's not yet fully match fit following a shoulder injury, so Wales will be led by lock Alun Wyn Jones, who also deputised as skipper for the flanker in the final Test for the British and Irish Lions against Australia in Sydney last year.

Meanwhile, Dan Lydiate, another Lions star on that tour, is all set to take his place in the pack following the birth of his first child during the week.

Behind the scrum, Lydiate's Racing Metro and Lions team-mate Jamie Roberts returns at centre, after missing last year's November Tests due to injury, with Gatland's most contentious choice coming at fly-half where the Scarlets' Rhys Priestland has edged out Dan Biggar.

With points machine Leigh Halfpenny at full-back and winger George North also included, Wales ought to have more than enough pace and power to beat their opponents.

The Azzurri are plagued by injuries and coach Jacques Brunel has decided to give Benetton Treviso winger Angelo Esposito his debut, while also starting inexperienced Michele Campagnaro, Leonardo Sarto and Tommaso Allan.

Veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco will become Italy's longest serving player overtaking the legendary Sergio Lanfranchi.

Among those absent through injury are Wasps full-back Andrea Masi, Zebre wing Giovanbattista Venditti and La Rochelle centre Gonzalo Canale.

Wales: 15 Halfpenny, 14 Cuthbert, 13 S. Williams, 12 Roberts, 11 North, 10 Priestland, 9 Phillips; 1 James, 2 Hibbard, 3 A Jones, 4 Charteris, 5 A-W Jones (capt), 6 D Lydiate, 7 J Tipuric, 8 Faletau

Replacements: 16 Owens, 17 Bevington, 18 Jones, 19 Coombs, 20 Warburton, 21 Webb, 22 Hook, 23 Williams.

Italy: 15 McLean, 14 Esposito, 13 Campagnaro, 12 Sgarbi, 11 Sarto, 10 Allan, 9 Gori; 1 Bergamasco, 2 Zanni, 3 Bortolami, 4 Geldenhuys, 5 Castrogiovanni, 6 Ghiraldini, 7 Rizzo, 8 Parisse (capt)

Replacements: 16 Giazzon, 17 De Marchi, 18 Cittadini, 19 Furno, 20 Minto, 21 Botes, 22 Orquera, 23 Iannone.

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