Six Nations 2013: Can Wales succeed in Italian job?

By Bryn PalmerBBC Sport
Archive: 2010 Six Nations Highlights - Italy 16-24 Wales

Regrets and recriminations after losing at home to Ireland. Belief and buoyancy restored after a surprise win in Paris.

Wales' Six Nations campaign to date epitomises what has been an unpredictable and engrossing Championship.

Having broken their eight-Test losing streak against France, the defending champions head to Italy for the second of three successive away games.

Former Wales flanker and BBC Sport analyst Martyn Williams played in Wales' first four Six Nations games in Rome, winning two in 2001 and 2005, and losing two, in 2003 and 2007.

Here he gives us the lowdown on what to expect this Saturday.

Wales coach Rob Howley named his starting team a week earlier than usual. Good move?

I was surprised. I have never known them to do it outwardly. Sometimes within camp you know fairly well in advance you are going to play, but to come out and announce it publicly is new. It is a bold move but I like it. A lot of coaches worry about the opposition being able to analyse players and systems but for me it is a statement to Italy: 'You know what is coming - deal with it.' From a player's point of view, sometimes you are chopping and changing in training because no-one is sure of what changes there will be, but this gives them the best possible preparation time.

Any downsides?

If you are in the starting XV it helps, but the flip-side is sometimes the coaches like to name the team late to keep everyone on their toes and get the intensity in training. I think these players are all professional enough to know they can't relax, but it has given the Italians 10 days to really get into their analysis. They can really focus on specific things. Sometimes analysis can be a bit wishy-washy until you know the opposition team. But obviously Rob [Howley] and the coaches are backing the boys to do the job.

Where does it leave Sam Warburton?

It is tough on Sam and I do feel for him. He went through the pain of the last eight losses and then the one game you miss, they go and win. I have been there myself. As much as you make the right noises and say you are glad for the boys, which you are, inside you are so frustrated to miss out, particularly a special match in Paris.

It just shows how fickle this game is. Ryan Jones would have woken up on the Thursday before the France game thinking he was going to be on the bench. All of a sudden Sam pulls out, Ryan is made captain, has a stormer, and people are talking about Ryan maybe getting on the Lions tour.

This is probably the first time Sam has experienced not getting selected. As tough as it will seem to him now, it goes with the territory. No-one has a smooth ride throughout their career. It is just one of those bumps in the road. He is still part of their plans and it is a great position for Wales, to have the two sevens [Warburton and Justin Tipuric] they do.

Will we see a more creative, vibrant Wales now they have ended their losing run?

Highlights: France 6-16 Wales

It sounds strange but I think they have got the 'easy' one out of the way. Nobody gave them a chance in Paris and that created a siege mentality within the squad. You could tell by the performances of people like Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins. They had a real chip on their shoulder and wanted to go out and prove something, which they did.

Now they have to regroup because Italy is such a tough away game. Everyone will be expecting them to win but although they slipped up in Scotland, Italy showed against France that they are a quality outfit and you can't under-estimate them anymore. Psychologically, it is a big test for Wales to back up what they did in Paris.

Wales have been known to struggle in Rome…

Apart from one year - in 2005 - when we won quite comfortably (38-8), all our games in Rome have been real dogfights. Once Italy get a roll on and the crowd gets behind them, you feel it sometimes on the pitch and it is very difficult to get that momentum back.

Where we have struggled out there in the past is we have never really had a dominant set-piece, where we can go to our line-out, have a big driving game and suck the life out of them, so we have always been scrambling. They have dictated the pace of the game, slowed the game down and out-scrummaged us, and we have struggled.

But Italy seem to have expanded their game a bit, especially against France. That wasn't a dogged win by any means, they played some great stuff. But if they do the same against Wales, I think it could play into our hands. Although we have a decent set-piece with Adam Jones back in there, we tend to struggle against sides who slow the pace of the game down. So if Italy come out and play, that should suit the Welsh boys down to the ground.

That said, the Italians have a lot of experienced players who know how to beat Wales, so they might try to play it tight. It makes for a fascinating game. We are into the third week of the Championship and apart from England, no-one really knows how good any of the other sides are.

Speaking of England, that final game in Cardiff is shaping up nicely...

It is amazing how one chip [by Dan Biggar] and one finish [by George North in Paris] can change the whole complexion. All of a sudden people are saying Wales v England [on 16 March] could be a Championship decider. The Welsh boys won't be thinking that way yet, because they have two big games before then. The mood has obviously shifted but this Championship is so tight that if you have an off day, you will get beaten. Wales have put themselves in a good position with their win in Paris and have got a bit of momentum, but they need to back it up now.

So will they prevail in Rome?

I think so. It is going to be tough and tight again but in the end I think Wales will win by five to seven points. I just think they have a bit more of a cutting edge in the backs and that will be the difference.


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