Preview: Italy v Wales

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The Guinness Six Nations returns after the second fallow weekend this afternoon as Wales head to continental Europe for two away games that may result in an unlikely Grand Slam.

First up for Wayne Pivac’s men is a trip to Rome to face an Italian side rooted to the bottom of the table with three losses from their three games to-date, without any losing bonus points and conceding an average of 46 points per game.

The Azzurri have not won in the Six Nations since a shock win at Scotland during round three of the 2015 edition of the tournament, with their loss against Ireland last time out being their 30th straight competition defeat, having already fallen to France and England this year.

There is a bright horizon for Italy rugby, with their U20 side over the last two years achieving a relative amount of success, and with the likes of Gianmarco Lucchesi, Riccardo Favretto, Michele Lamaro, Stephen Varney, Paolo Garbisi, Federico Mori and Jacopo Trulla all stepping up to the senior squad this year, a golden generation could yet take them forwards to competitiveness.

For now though they blood these youngsters carefully and Wales look to take advantage of that having overcome Ireland, Scotland and England so far with a sense of fortune along the way but a growing confidence and quality that is turning the men in red from lucky to deserving.

We arrive in Rome having won on our last six visits to the Italian capital, stretching back to 2009, and on a 15-game winning streak against the Azzurri, the most recent being a Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau inspired 38-18 win at Parc y Scarlets in the first week of December.

Italy head coach Franco Smith has made five changes to the side that lost to Ireland last time out, three coming in the tight five where Danilo Fischetti and Giosuè Zilocchi form a new propping partnership, while Niccolo Cannone slots into the second row.

In the backs Stephen Varney is fit again to re-take his place at scrum-half, while Mattia Bellini replaces the injured Luca Sperandio on the wing.

Italy: Jacopo Trulla, Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Carlo Canna, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (c), Giosue Zilocchi, Niccolo Cannone, David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer, Michele Lamaro

Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti, Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, Maxime Mbanda, Marcello Violi, Federico Mori, Edoardo Padovani

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has made just the one tactical change to the team that took the field against England last time out as Adam Beard is rested with Cory Hill slotting in alongside Alun Wyn Jones in the second row.

There is also an enforced change as Gareth Davies starts at scrum-half with Kieran Hardy ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations with a hamstring injury.

Some new faces come on to the bench as Rhys Carre provides loosehead cover with Rhodri Jones injured, Jake Ball could win his 50th cap if utilised as second row cover, Aaron Wainwright is the preferred back row option and Lloyd Williams is the back-up scrum-half.

Wales: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, George North, Jon Davies, Louis Rees-Zammit, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Lloyd Williams, Callum Sheedy, Willis Halaholo

On a forecast beautiful day in Rome, Wales’ Grand Slam hopes will either march on to Paris or crash and burn in embarrassing fashion at the hands of Italy. There’s not a huge amount of in-between at this stage of the competition.

Sticking with the same side asks a lot of Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau, who returned to play for their clubs in the Gallagher Premiership, and Dan Biggar, who departed the field against England with a leg problem, as well as the senior players Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones and Jon Davies who are all in the final stages of their careers.

Meanwhile exciting options of Aaron Wainwright, Callum Sheedy and Willis Halaholo watch on from the bench, when perhaps they could have been out showing off their skills on a perfect day at the Stadio Olimpico.

Wayne Pivac will be hoping his experienced men can do the business in the first hour, otherwise he must not be afraid to turn to the replacements early. No margin for error here, a bonus point win is the aim.

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