Wales travel to Rome in what is to be their second fixture in a row on the road. After a somewhat surprise win over France in the previous round, confidence has at last returned to the Welsh side, and they will be eager to rack up another win.
Italy landed back in reality with a bump against Scotland after having a dream start against France. Things have gotten worse for them with usual captain Sergio Parisse having been hit with a 30 day ban for abusing a match official.
Long-time prop Martin Castrogiavanni takes over the captain’s armband and Italy will be determined to show that their win against France wasn’t just a one off performance. The Italian forwards, as ever, remain their strong point, and rooky Wales lock Andrew Coombs will have to keep up his good performances if he is to impress ahead of replacement Alun Wyn Jones.
Italy showed in the game against France that they have dangerous runners in their backline, especially their winger Benvenuti, yet the return of Burton at fly half perhaps shows them taking a step back in terms of their attacking play, with them still reeling from the loss to Scotland.
Picking Burton, a more conservative fly half, could well play into the hands of Wales, whose victory against France was built on the foundations of an incredibly solid defence. The Italian is a canny kicker of the ball though, and Welsh wings North and Cuthbert must be highly aware of the risk of high balls and kicks behind.
Wales have opted for an unchanged team, a just reward for their efforts out in Paris. If they can produce the same defensive effort then they can really help drive the Italians backwards and force the errors, which if in the right areas of the pitch, full back Leigh Halfpenny should have no problem converting into points.
They will hope to bring their backs into attacking play more however, which was somewhat stunted and predictable for the most part against France. Roberts and Davies need to look for the offload more than the contact, and with a mobile backrow in support, they should utilise their running options instead of continuously going to ground.
Wales also have the stronger bench options, with big players Warburton and Jones unable to muscle their way into the starting XV, that could see Italy struggle going into the last quarter of the match, with depth in their squad never being their strong point.
Italy will have to bring the same intensity to their game as they did France, and bully Wales off the ball. Whether or not they can do this without their talisman Parisse remains to be seen, but the Italians are always a more ferocious side at home, and Wales will know they will have to be at their very best to get a win. One thing is for sure, that this is set to be a bruising encounter, but Wales’ hard runners and superior defence, should just be enough for a win.
Referee: Romain Poite
Kick off: 14.30pm
Italy: Andrea Masi (Wasps); Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso), Gonzalo Canale (La Rochelle), Luke McLean (Treviso); Kristopher Burton (Treviso), Edoardo Gori (Treviso); Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester, capt), Antonio Pavanello (Treviso), Francesco Minto (Treviso), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Simone Favaro (Treviso), Manoa Vosawai (Treviso).
Replacements: Davide Giazzon (Zebre), Alberto De Marchi (Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Quentin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Paul Derbyshire (Treviso), Tobias Botes (Treviso), Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre).
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Dragons).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter) Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Lloyd Williams (Blues), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).