Six Nations: Phil Bennett calls for Wales to have All Blacks edge

New Zealand's Mils Muliaina leaves Wales' Ryan Jones for dead in the 2010 clash in Cardiff
New Zealand's Mils Muliaina leaves Wales' Ryan Jones for dead in the 2010 clash in Cardiff

Ex-Wales star Phil Bennett insists the Grand Slam-chasing Welsh team needs to develop a ruthless edge like New Zealand.

Bennett, a veteran of two Wales Grand Slam teams during the 1970sexternal-link, insists Warren Gatland's men have the firepower to kill off sides like Italy.

Wales play Italy on Saturday looking to complete a fourth straight win.

"I honestly think this Wales side should now be thinking like the All Blacks think," said Bennett.

"[New Zealand] are ruthless - they wouldn't be worried about Italy.

"We will have to combat this big Italian pack, but we have got a big pack of forwards who don't take a step backwards now.

"I think we are the fittest team in world rugby and I expect the last 25-30 minutes that Wales really display their skills - Italy will be tired - and we come away with a convincing victory ready for the big match against France in the Grand Slam."

Bennett, who captained Wales to the 1978 Grand Slam, would like to see a comprehensive victory to compare with Wales' record wins over Italy 60-21 (1999)external-link and 47-8 (2008).

Bennett believes that Wales' big advantage over other sides at the moment, apart from impressive fitness levels, is their strength in depth which has helped them win their opening three games against Ireland, Scotland and England.

Phil Bennett
Phil Bennett played 29 times for Wales between 1969 and 1978

Skipper and openside flanker Sam Warburton is missing with an injured knee but will be replaced by the higly-rated Justin Tipuric.

Warburton was also injured against Scotland but with Tipuric also out, Aaron Shingler made a memorable debut on the openside flank.

Similarly, Ken Owens had a good first Wales start at Twickenham but with Matthew Rees back to full fitness Gatland is able to put the former skipper in the middle of am all Lions front row, meaning Owns has to make do with a place on the replacements bench.

"I think they [Wales] are such a strong squad these days. This team has been together for a year, year and a half continually," said Bennett.

"Losing Warburton is a big blow. He is a world class player. But I think Gatland will say 'let's get on with it - another man is injured another takes his place, it's a chance for someone else'."

And Bennett admits he is surprised Wales are risking Jamie Roberts after he suffered a knee injury during the victory over England.

"I bumped into Jamie after the Twickenham game he could hardly walk and yet here he is back in the side. I just hope he is 100% fit.

"I hope he doesn't do himself any more damage because he is a crucial player for Wales.

"We are very lucky have the likes of James Hook and the likes of Scott Williams to come into those kind of positions. It is a very strong squad and I'm very confident they will beat Italy."

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Michael Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Blues, capt), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Dragons).

REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).

ITALY: Andrea Masi (Aironi); Luke McLean (Treviso), Gonzalo Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso), Mirco Bergamasco (Racing Metro); Kris Burton (Treviso), Fabio Semenzato (Treviso); Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Quintin Geldenhuys (Aironi), Cornelius van Zyl (Treviso), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Simone Favaro (Aironi), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt).

REPLACEMENTS: Tommaso D'Apice (Aironi), Fabio Staibano (Aironi), Marco Bortolami (Aironi), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Tobias Botes (Treviso), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso), Giulio Toniolatti (Aironi).

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