Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Newcomers make the right impression on Wales hooker Ken Owens

Ken Owens has praised the impact of Wales' sizeable uncapped contingent on preparations for this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Interim head coach Rob Howley named seven Test match rookies in his squad, with Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Ospreys back-row forward Olly Cracknell possibly in contention for a bench place against opening Six Nations opponents Italy on Sunday.

And Wales hooker Owens said: "The new players have added something to the squad.

"A lot of them were playing well in the run-up to the autumn series this season and were unlucky to miss out.

"They have continued their form up to the Six Nations, and that is why they have been included. New voices and fresh faces around the squad add to the environment."

Howley is due to name his starting line-up on Thursday for the Stadio Olimpico clash, with lock Alun Wyn Jones set to lead Wales after taking over as captain from Sam Warburton.

Elsewhere, there could be starts for centre Scott Williams, scrum-half Rhys Webb, lock Jake Ball and back-row forward Ross Moriarty, who looks likely to feature in the number eight shirt.

Wales have not been beaten by Italy since 2007, while they topped 60 points in each of the last two Six Nations meetings.

But Scarlets forward Owens is wary of an Azzurri outfit preparing for its first Six Nations campaign under a new coaching team of Conor O'Shea, Mike Catt and Brendan Venter.

"It's a tough game," Owens added. "They will be looking to build on a good autumn when they beat South Africa.

"They will be disappointed with losing against Tonga, but they've had time with Conor O'Shea, Mike Catt and Brendan Venter in camp, and I am sure they will hit the ground running.

"We know just how hard it's going to be out there, and it is all about getting a good performance and a victory first-up.

"I am looking forward to it. It (Six Nations) is the best international rugby tournament in the world outside the Rugby World Cup.

"We are excited, we've had a really good training week with the new guys coming into the squad, and we can't wait for our first hit-out against Italy on Sunday."

Italy will parade 10 of the starting line-up that accounted for South Africa in November for Sunday's encounter.

Edoardo Gori's return at scrum-half instead of Giorgio Bronzini represents a solitary change from the back division that started the Springboks clash in Florence.

And that means no place for in-form Exeter centre Michele Campagnaro, who is named on the bench by O'Shea, with Luke McLean and Tommaso Benvenuti continuing their midfield partnership.

Skipper Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, will win his 122nd cap, packing down in a back-row which also includes Six Nations debutant Maxime Mbanda.

How to Complain

If you have a complaint about the editorial content of the Belfast Telegraph or Sunday Life then contact the Editor here. If you are not satisfied with the response provided then you can contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation here

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph