O’Shea and Howley Opt for Experience in the Opening Round
Last updated: February 3, 2017 by Leon Marshal
|Coverage:||ITV & BBC|
|Last season:||Wales 64 – 17 Italy|
|Competition:||RBS Six Nations|
With both sides eager to get off to a good start in this year’s championship, coaches Rob Howley and Conor O’Shea look to their experienced players to get the job done as they both opt for maturity in their match day 22’s. With many pundits saying that this year’s competition is perhaps the most unpredictable we’ve had for some years, the need for a commanding start is crucial. Wales know that facing the Azzuri at home inside the Stadio Olimpico in the opening round is a potential banana skin; at the same time, Italy know that the time has come for them to prove their worth in the tournament as mounting talk about a relegation system could mean that they struggle to keep their place in the coming years. Get set for an enthralling fixture where’s plenty on the line for both sides.
New head coach and ex-Ireland fullback Conor O’Shea is aware that Italy are at a pivotal point in their rugby journey. They now have a number of players with real test experience who know how it feels to struggle and triumph, but also to crash and burn. Sergio Parisse, the 33-year-old back row veteran who will win his 122nd cap on Sunday afternoon, is joined by the experienced Lorenzo Cittadini, Luke McLean and Leonardo Ghiraldini who have each won 53 caps, 84 caps and 82 caps respectively. There are also a number of young prospects that add another element of excitement and hunger to the side. Edoardo Padovani starts at full back and is joined by his talented Zebre teammate Carlo Canna at number 10, whilst the in-form centre for the Exeter Chiefs, Michele Campagnaro, moves onto the bench to allow the McClean-Benvenuti centre partnership to continue operating in the midfield. He will no doubt make an impact as he comes off the bench in the final stages of the game, as will Toulouse hooker, Leonardo Ghiraldini.
Alun Wyn Jones will earn his 106th cap for his country as he leads a vastly experienced Welsh XV out for their Six Nations opener. Howley, it seems, wants to leave nothing to chance as he leaves all seven uncapped players out of his match day 22 and instead looks to the likes of Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warbuton to see them through the first round. Scott Williams is preferred to Jamie Roberts, which suggests that Wales will look to open things up a little more and move the Italians around the field whilst Ross Moriarty, in the absence of Toby Faletau, gets the nod at number 8. Wales will miss the dynamism of Faletau off the base of the scrum, however, with Sam Warbuton no longer encumbered with the captain’s role he can now focus on his own game and work to get his side over the gainline.
Italy approach this game in the advantageous position of having a fully fit squad. O’Shea has made the most of this and chosen a side that has great experience, whilst also featuring a number of young prospects.
This year is Sergio Parisse’s 14th Six Nations campaign. He will win his 122nd cap for his country as he leads his side out against Wales at the wekend, making it his 40th appearance as captain for the Azzuri.
Toby Faletau has not been passed fit in time for this weekend’s clash in Rome. Ross Moriarty comes in to take his place at number eight with Warbuton alongside at blindside and Tipuric at openside.
Rhys Webb returns from injury to win his 24th cap, taking the place of Gareth Davis, who started in Wales’s victory over South Africa in the summer.
|Italy:||Lovotti, Gega, Cittadini, Fuser, Bigagi, Steym, Mata, Parisse, Gori, Canna, Venditti, McLean, Benvenuti, Bisegni, Padovani|
|Subs:||Ghiraldini, Panico, Ceccarelli, Furno, Minto, Bronzini, Allan, Campagnaro|
|Wales:||SMith, Owens, Lee, Ball, Jones, Warbuton, Tipuric, Moriarty, Webb, Biggar, Williams, Williams, Davies, North, Halfpenny|
|Subs:||Baldwin, Evans, Francis, Hill, King, Davies, Davies, Roberts|
|Italy in 2016||Wales in 2016|
|13th||IRB World Ranking||5th|
|1 (2)||(at home) Wins in 2016 (away)||6 (0)|
|24-20 vs. USA||Biggest win 2016||64-17 vs. Italy|
|2 (6)||(at home) Losses 2016 (away)||3 (4)|
|10-68 vs. New Zealand||Biggest Defeat 2016||46-6 vs. New Zealand||13||Tries Scored (2016 – present)||25|
|40||Tries Against (2016 – present)||29|
|686||Combined Caps in Squad||860|
|6||2016 Finishing Place||2|
|0||Six Nations Titles||38|
- Italy recorded their first ever win over a southern hemisphere nation in the Autumn as they triumphed over South Africa. They will be hoping to build on that positive performance as they line up against Wales on Sunday afternoon.
- Wales are far more experienced than Italy going into this fixture. They have a total of 860 caps in the squad, an average of 45 caps per player, compared to Italy’s 686.
- Italy have slipped down a few places in the offical IRB rankings. With an offical ranking of 13, they are now one place behind second-tier nation Georgia, which has called into quesiton their future in the Six Nations.
- Wales’s biggest victory to date was against the Italians in last year’s Six Nations tournament. They scored 67 points compared to Wales’s 16 at the Principality stadium in the final round of the competition.
Head to Head
|Last 5 meetings between the two sides|
|Date||Competition||Game Result||First Try-scorer|
|19/03/2016||Six Nations||Wales 67 – 14 Italy||Webb 5′|
|05/09/2015||World Cup warm-up||Wales 23 – 19 Italy||Sarto 2′|
|21/03/2015||Six Nations||Italy 20 – 61 Wales||Roberts 18′|
|01/02/2014||Six Nations||Wales 23 – 15 Italy||North 3′|
|23/02/2013||Six Nations||Italy 9 – 26 Wales||Cuthbert 59′|
Conclusion & Betting Tips
Sunday’s fixture is set to be a truly fascinating encounter; the visitors are in a period of transition, with leadership changes and new faces in the extended squad, whilst the hosts are keen to assert their status as a tier one rugby nation and cause an early upset. Italy haven’t beaten Wales since 2007, and the likely hood is they won’t manage it again this year – if you want to play it safe, we recommend going for a straight Wales to win bet. An Italian victory is far from impossible though, and they have proven in the past that they can upset teams when playing at home. If you’re feeling lucky, you could also opt for a home win with a narrow margin of 3 or 5 points – good prices are currently showing at Paddy Power.