The second round of this year’s Guinness Six Nations sees Warren Gatland take his Wales side down to Rome, looking to make it two away wins on the bounce to kick off the tournament.
There will be an element of looking to make-up for last week’s game in Paris last week as, although France were beaten 19-24 in the end, performance-wise it was not up to scratch and Wales were forced to overcome a 16-0 half-time deficit to secure their four points.
A well worked Tomos Williams try and then a poacher’s brace from George North capitalising on French mistakes secured the win, but a myriad of handling errors, some uncharacteristic defensive errors and a dodgy lineout prevented the Welsh side from getting the campaign off to a really good start.
They will be hoping to put that right this weekend after an intense training week in Nice, with Saturday’s game in Rome a chance to lay a marker down before a huge home game against England, as well as equal the best winning test run in Welsh rugby history, a record currently held by the team on 1910.
Standing in the way is an Italian side who went down 33-20 to Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend, a more one-sided game than it appears with Italy scoring two late tries with the Scots down to 14-men and taking their foot off the gas with five points secured.
They are currently without a win in their last 18 Six Nations games, and Wales are on a run of 11 straight wins over this weekend’s opponents, however memories of 2003 and 2007 still live in the memory when Italy managed to overhaul the men in red at their then home of the Stadio Flaminio.
Conor O’Shea makes two changes to his XV that fell at Murrayfield last week, with Andrea Lovotti ruled out through illness so Nicola Quaglio takes his place at loosehead, while Tommaso Castello is dropped from the midfield resulting in Luca Morisi moving to 12, Michele Campagnaro moving to 13 and Edoardo Padovani coming in on the wing.
There are two changes on the Italian bench as Marco Barbini replaces Jimmy Tuivaiti as back row cover, while Edoardo Gori comes in as replacement scrum-half with Tommaso Benvenuti now covering the outside backs.
Italy: Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Allan, Guglielmo Palazzani; Nicola Quaglio, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, David Sisi, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse (c)
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Marco Barbini, Edoardo Gori, Ian McKinley, Tommaso Benvenuti
Warren Gatland, on the other hand, makes 10 changes to his starting XV with many suggesting the World Cup is on his mind after a training week with a 31-man squad and further evidence that he is trying to develop depth and experience among the ranks.
A new look front row sees Nicky Smith return from injury to pack down alongside Elliot Dee and Samson Lee, while Adam Beard and Jake Ball partner up in the second row. An inexperienced back row is made up of Aaron Wainwright and Thomas Young making their first Six Nations starts at flanker, while Josh Navidi maintains his starting spot but switches to number eight.
At half-back Aled Davies and Dan Biggar team up, while Owen Watkin joins another survivor, and this week’s captain, Jon Davies in the centre. Liam Williams and Josh Adams also retain their spots in a back three completed by another Six Nations debutant in Jonah Holmes.
Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty and Gareth Anscombe drop to the bench where Wyn Jones and Gareth Davies are once again, joined by Ryan Elias, Dillon Lewis and Hallam Amos.
Wales: Liam Williams, Jonah Holmes, Jonathan Davies (c), Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Aled Davies; Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Thomas Young, Josh Navidi
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Hallam Amos
On what is forecast to be a dry and fine day in Rome on Saturday, there is a chance for Wales to redevelop their attacking flair and put some serious points on the board, with a try bonus point the aim if a Six Nations Championship is to be an aim in the short-term.
However, there is always a risk when so many changes are made, and especially when those changes conjure up this amount of combinations that are either new or have spent little game time together.
Seeing how certain individuals get on may well play a large part in the 31-man sqush Warren Gatland takes to Japan in September, and dealing with that pressure may well be a challenge for some.
If Wales can survive what is likely to be a tough opening 20 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico though, in front of the Italian fans, then their superior fitness and attacking strength off the bench should be too much for the home side to deal with.