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Warburton on course to face France

Wales are optimistic that captain Sam Warburton will be fit to lead his team's RBS 6 Nations title bid against France next Saturday.

Warburton misses Saturday's Millennium Stadium clash with Italy because of a knee injury, the latest problem following thigh trouble that restricted him to just 40 minutes' action against Ireland and Scotland. Prop Gethin Jenkins will skipper the side in Warburton's absence, with Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric handed a first Test match start.

"The medical opinion is that we are very hopeful he (Warburton) will be fit to face France next week," Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said.

Warburton would be a huge loss for the World Cup semi-final re-match, which comes just five months after Wales were knocked out 9-8 by France in Auckland and their captain was sent off.

A Wales victory over Italy would then leave them needing to beat France for their third Six Nations title and Grand Slam in eight seasons. Of more immediate concern is the Six Nations favourites putting Italy away to set up next week's full-scale assault on Six Nations silverware.

Howley added: "Patience and composure in the opposition 22 and ball in play time is pretty important, along with accuracy on the ball. We have to get the contact area right because international rugby is all about creating quick ball. The quicker the ball, the greater the opportunity we will have to score tries.

"When you see how Italy have played so far, they have good line speed in defence and we have to be aware of that. It is something we did not deal with well at Twickenham, and we have to put that right."

Wales have won five and drawn one of their Six Nations encounters against Italy in Cardiff, averaging almost 40 points a time.

But defence coach Shaun Edwards said: "There will be no complacency tomorrow because the players are all fighting for their places. They will want to make sure they hold on to the jersey because we have pressure in virtually every position. No-one wants to lose their spot in the team.

"We want to go out there and play attacking, entertaining rugby, and when they (Italy) get the ball we want to attack them with our defence."


From Belfast Telegraph