A fixture which will decide the wooden spoon recipient for this season’s tournament as Italy and Wales play the opening round four fixture of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations tournament in Rome.
A win for Italy would confirm their evolution and progression since they last played Wales in this tournament.
A win for Wales would steady the side after a turbulent tournament where matters off the pitch have dominated preparation.
Italy confident but Capuozzo absence is a big attacking loss
There is one enforced change to the Italian side that competed so well against Ireland in Rome in round three. The mercurial Ange Capuozzo is sidelined with Tommaso Allan comes in at full back.
Kieran Crowley had no hesitation in playing Allan in the back three given his team selection thoughts to the media today.
Allan is an experienced test match player who has full back for his club Harlequins.
The rest of the side remains unchanged. The front five has impressed in the set piece during the tournament.
Ruzzo will look to continue to secure quality attacking platform ball for Garbisi and Menoncello to exploit an inexperienced Welsh three quarter unit.
Will lessons from the Ireland game be applied? Will Italy’s defensive setup out wide improve? Will their first up defensive work evolve further? If so, then they have a great opportunity to win this test match.
15. Tommaso Allan
14. Edoardo Padovani 12. Tommaso Menoncello 13. Juan Ignacio Brex 11. Pierre Bruno
9. Stephen Varney 10 Paolo Garbisi
1. Danilo Fischetti 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Simone Ferrari
4. Niccolo Cannone, 5. Federico Ruzza
6. Sebastian Negri 8. Lorenzo Cannone 7. Michele Lamaro
16. Luca Bigi 17. Federico Zani 18. Marco Riccioni 19. Edoardo Iachizzi 20. Giovanni Pettinelli 21. Manuel Zuliani
22. Alessandro Fusco, 23. Luca Morisi
Wales come into this game looking for answers. What is best Welsh front five that Warren Gatland can select for this tournament? Who are the best half-back partnership for Wales to win this fixture? What attacking changes in the back three can expose Italian defensive issues out wide?
Warren Gatland and management will sincerely hope that they have cracked the equation as several personnel changes have been made for this Rome encounter.
If you have listened to our weekly rugby union podcast, the front five performances from Wales have fallen well short of the standard required at test match level. No genuine platform for the side and Wales have struggled to gain a foothold in games as a result.
The scrum, the defensive maul and lineout have creaked at key moments during this tournament. The scrum against England was a source of huge concern last time out; 6/11 scrums won and will targeted by the Italians this weekend.
Gatland has made changes to the unit. Wyn Jones and Dafydd Jenkins come into the front five to replace. Alun Wyn Jones is omitted completely from the matchday squad. Wyn Jones is a quality scrummager so the hope is that the scrum set piece becomes more assured.
Jenkins will require Adam Beard to provide leadership and guidance during the key critical test match moments. Jenkins has enormous ability but this is a daunting road trip assignment. Italy’s lineout in particular has impressed with Ruzzo a standout operator.
Jac Morgan has been a shining light for Wales in a difficult campaign so far. He replaces Christ Tshiunza at blindside flanker. Tshiunza will come back into selection for the French game in round five. Two positives for Wales so far in the tournament so it is not all doom and gloom.
The half-back unit is changed once again. Rhys Webb comes back into the side to replace Tomos Williams. Webb’s experience should help Owen Williams settle into this contest more. It is a key test match for Williams to deliver. Biggar, Costelloe, Sheedy and Evans will look on with interest on this cameo.
The back line is not spared either. The three quarters are retained but the back three sees Halfpenny dropped from the matchday squad completely while Rees-Zammit goes to the bench. Liam Williams returns at full back while Rio Dyer comes into the side on the wing.
Williams sniping runs hitting the line along with Dyer’s explosive pace were probably factors but Wales feel like that they are looking to find the perfect cohesion in all units with this selection and against a resurgent Italy, it could be a dangerous ploy.
15. Liam Williams
14. Josh Adams 12. Joe Hawkins 13. Mason Grady 11. Rio Dyer
9. Rhys Webb 10. Owen Williams
1. Wyn Jones 2. Ken Owens (c) 3. Tomas Francis,
4. Adam Beard 5. Dafydd Jenkins
6. Jac Morgan 8. Taulupe Faletau 7. Justin Tipuric
16. Scott Baldwin 17. Gareth Thomas 18. Dillon Lewis 19. Rhys Davies 20. Tommy Reffell
21. Tomos Williams 22. George North 23. Louis Rees-Zammit
The form guide would indicate Italy to win this fixture but why am I so hesitant? Italy’s first up defensive work against Ireland was inconsistent at best and I can see Wales scoring a few tries.
The Italian pack though look well placed to create attacking platform.
Allan at full-back provides more structure in the back field defensively for Italy but Ange Capuozzo for his line break ability is a big loss.
Menoncello will be asked to become more of a playmaker. Brex for Italy’s sake does not look to kick possession away like he did against Ireland in round three.
Slight edge to Italy given that their side is more stable and Wales are throwing combinations here that may not be persist come the end of this tournament let alone RWC 2023.
The Welsh front five need to stand up and deliver a cohesive performance, otherwise fundamental questions on the Welsh pack depth chart will add fuel to the fire.
Wales will probably like this game to have less structure so it will be intriguing how Italy play this. They were fluid in their attacking lines but at a defensive cost.
Italy by five points but it will be a close fixture. Both sides showing vulnerability during the contest and providing evidence on why they are languishing at the bottom of the championship standings.