Wales v Italy talking points
Wales are firm favourites to record a 12th successive victory against Italy in Sunday’s NatWest 6 Nations encounter.
Wales continue their NatWest 6 Nations campaign when they tackle Italy in Cardiff on Sunday.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the talking points heading into the clash.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 10 changes to his team – could it back-fire?
TEAM NEWS 🏴 @taulupe returns to lead Wales against @Federugby. Croeso nol i'r wythwr profiadol Taulupe Faletau, sydd yn arwain Cymru dydd Sul: https://t.co/9Z0uPrdlFx #WALvITA pic.twitter.com/oZc2uOnSEv— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 7, 2018
Some pundits have claimed it is being disrespectful to Italy that Gatland has made so many alterations from the side beaten by Ireland a fortnight ago, but such an argument does not hold water. Wales are out of the title race, and building towards World Cup 2019 by developing squad depth is essential. It is important that Gatland has the chance to look at starting players like centre Owen Watkin and hooker Elliot Dee – plus highly-rated Cardiff Blues forwards Seb Davies and Ellis Jenkins – off the bench in Test match rugby’s pressure-cooker environment. Eighteen months out from Japan, Sunday’s game is an ideal staging post.
Can Wales debutant James Davies grasp his chance on the international stage?
1.8 - James Davies has won 1⃣2⃣8⃣ turnovers in 7⃣3⃣ games for @scarlets_rugby since his debut, his average of 1⃣.8⃣turnovers per game is the best of any PRO14, Premiership or TOP 14 player in all competitions in that time. Recognition. pic.twitter.com/12JYVULmyt— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) March 8, 2018
At the age of 27, Scarlets’ outstanding openside flanker finally gets a chance to show what he can do at the highest level. An Olympic silver medallist at Rio 2016 as part of the Great Britain sevens squad, and a PRO12 final winner last term, Davies has already enjoyed some memorable chapters in his rugby career. Brilliant at the breakdown, and possessing the running and handling skills of an outside back, his Wales opportunity is long overdue. Wales are not short on high-class openside flankers, and this weekend is Davies’ big moment. It could be a blockbuster.
Will George North show any sign of a recent difficult time at his club Northampton?
Highly unlikely. The juggernaut wing delivered two impressive displays when he appeared as a substitute against England and Ireland, and he now returns to Wales’ starting line-up for the first time since the final game of last season’s Six Nations. Northampton interim boss Alan Gaffney appeared to suggest that North had not wanted to play for Saints last weekend, and there are those who feel that the player was hung out to dry. Expect the 71 times-capped powerhouse to do his talking on the pitch this weekend. He is in form and primed to increase his Wales try tally – it currently stands at 30 – on Sunday.
How will Wales approach a game they are expected to win comfortably?
Wales’ recent record against Italy does not auger well for the Azzurri. Wales have recorded 11 successive victories, including a 2015 World Cup warm-up game, while three of the last four fixtures saw them win 33-7, 67-14 and 61-20. Expect Wales to inject pace from the start, stretching Italy wide, and with Gatland’s squad arguably the fittest in this season’s Six Nations, it could turn into another long afternoon for Sergio Parisse and company. Italy have shipped 136 points and 18 tries during the tournament so far, and if Wales get it right – their attacking game has been a forte in recent weeks – then the numbers should continue to soar.
Are Italy as poor as their Six Nations results suggest?
They have displayed moments of promise, particularly in their Stadio Olimpico opener against England five weeks ago, but there has also been an air of inevitability about the outcomes across defeats to England, Ireland and France. Half the 18 tries conceded by Conor O’Shea’s men came during the final 30 minutes, and Wales are proven strong finishers. As far as Italy are concerned, statistics scream loudly. They have propped up the Six Nations table 12 times in 18 seasons, and yet another last-place finish beckons. They have done little to silence the Six Nations promotion and relegation debate.