Six Nations 2013: Italy v Wales (Sat)
RBS Six Nations
- Stadio Olimpico, Rome
- 23 February
- 14:30 GMT (15:30 local)
- Watch live on BBC One, BBC One HD, mobiles and online from 1400 GMT; listen on BBC Radio 5 live, Radio Wales & Radio Cymru; text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles; watch again on BBC iPlayer; highlights on Sunday's Scrum V & BBC Two 2315 GMT
If a week is a long time in politics, three are an eternity in the Six Nations, as both Italy and Wales can testify. The Azzurri began their campaign with a memorable victory against France but were brought resoundingly back to earth by Scotland six days later, and this week learned that captain and inspiration Sergio Parisse will be banned for the rest of the tournament.
Conversely, Wales recovered from an opening defeat to Ireland (their eighth successive Test loss) by grinding out a gutsy win in Paris. Confidence, such a fragile but crucial commodity, seems to be returning to the Welsh camp - as demonstrated by Rob Howley's bold decision to name his starting line-up a week early.
Italian skipper Parisse is fluent in at least four languages but it was his proficiency in English which earned him a red card in Stade Francais' win against Bordeaux-Begles last Saturday.
He denies directing an Anglo-Saxon insult at referee Laurent Cardona during that match, but a French league disciplinary hearing upheld his dismissal, banning him for 40 days, the last 10 of which are suspended.
It is difficult to overstate his importance to Italy, both as a leader and world-class number eight. In the last 10 years the Azzurri have won only one Six Nations match without Parisse (Scotland in 2010). It's hard to think of another Test player who stands so clearly head and shoulders above his team-mates.
While Italy have made four changes to their team, dropping half-backs Luciano Orquera and Tobias Botes, Wales are unchanged.
Howley's decision to reveal his team 11 days before the game was unusual, but has been met with almost universal praise. Leaving out fit-again captain Sam Warburton must have been difficult, but by making his mind up early Howley ensured speculation and debate didn't overshadow Welsh preparations.
Warburton himself says it was "a smart call", enabling the squad to take full advantage of their two-week break. Of course, no amount of preparation can guarantee success, so Warburton's presence on the bench (along with Alun Wyn Jones) gives Howley plenty of options if things don't go to plan.
Should Wales win, they will make history by winning four successive Six Nations away games for the first time. The last time they managed that feat in the Five Nations was between 1977 and 1979. But Italy also have a landmark in sight - the Azzurri are chasing an unprecedented third successive home win in the tournament.
- Italy have won two of 19 Tests against Wales (W2, D1, L16). Both victories came at the Stadio Flaminio (in 2003 and 2007).
- The Welsh have won the last five meetings by an average margin of 19 points.
- The Azzurri's 24-3 defeat at the Millennium Stadium last March is the only time they have failed to score a try in their last 12 Tests.
- Wales won 31-22 on their only previous visit to the Stadio Olimpico in October 1996. Coach Rob Howley started at scrum-half in that game.
- The Azzurri have won back-to-back home games in the Six Nations (against Scotland in 2012 and France this year) for the first time.
- Italy have the best line-out success rate (89%) in this year's Six Nations, and also lead the way in terms of metres gained (1,017) and carries (287).
- The Italians enjoyed 62% possession against Scotland, and also spent 62% of the match in opposition territory.
- Italy have ended up with the Wooden Spoon nine times in their 13 Six Nations campaigns.
- Wales have won their last three away games in the Six Nations but have not won four in a row.
- All four of Wales' tries in this year's Six Nations have originated from line-outs.
- They have the best passing accuracy (98%) in this year's tournament, and have spent more time in possession (21 minutes, 9 seconds) than any other side.
- Toby Faletau has recorded more carries (29) than any other player in this year's Six Nations.
Italy: 15-Andrea Masi, 14-Giovanbattista Venditti, 13-Tommaso Benvenuti, 12-Gonzalo Canale, 11-Luke McLean, 10-Kristopher Burton, 9-Edoardo Gori; 1-Andrea Lo Cicero, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 4-Antonio Pavanello, 5-Francesco Minto, 6-Alessandro Zanni, 7-Simone Favaro, 8-Ratu Manoa Vosawai.
Replacements:16-Davide Giazzon, 17-Alberto De Marchi, 18-Lorenzo Cittadini,19- Quintin Geldenhuys, 20-Paul Derbyshire, 21-Tobias Botes, 22-Luciano Orquera, 23-Gonzalo Garcia.
Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-George North, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Mike Phillips; 1-Gethin Jenkins, 2-Richard Hibbard, 3-Adam Jones, 4-Andrew Coombs, 5-Ian Evans, 6-Ryan Jones (captain), 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Toby Faletau.
Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Paul James, 18-Craig Mitchell, 19-Alun Wyn Jones, 20-Sam Warburton, 21-Lloyd Williams, 22-James Hook, 23-Scott Williams.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Touch judges: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TV: Geoff Warren (England)