Wales will be gunning for a second successive Six Nations away victory when they tackle Italy at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday.
With the pressure off having ended an eight-match run without a win, Wales will be gunning for a second successive Six Nations away victory when they tackle Italy on Saturday.
Wales play Italy in Rome – scene of painful Six Nations defeats against the Azzurri in 2003 and 2007 – knowing victory would keep them among the title contenders. Ireland at home, and then France in Paris, are on Wales' Six Nations agenda next month, but all routes currently lead to Stadio Flaminio.
Wales, after going eight Tests without a win, rediscovered some of their renowned adventure in establishing an early 16-0 lead against Scotland last time out. They went on to win the game comfortably at Murrayfield, and a similar display this weekend should see them past their hosts and wooden spoon favourites.
Italy are on the back of a 59-13 Twickenham drubbing against title favourites England, although Wales will inevitably adopt a degree of caution after losing twice in Rome over the past eight years.
Wales will parade six survivors – James Hook, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Matthew Rees, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ryan Jones – from four years ago when Italy triumphed 23-20. But the visitors also know they can comfortably tame the Italians on home soil, crushing them 38-8 en route towards a Six Nations title and Grand Slam in 2005.
Italy have recorded a solitary victory in their last nine Test matches, beating Fiji two months ago and defeat for the Italians this weekend would edge them closer towards a ninth wooden spoon in 12 Six Nations campaigns.
The Azzurri were devoured two weeks ago by a rampant England in a game that showed the newest members of Europe's top flight rugby fraternity still have some way to go to be truly competitive at this level. All the hope and promise garnered from their home match against Ireland, when they led by a point with two minutes to play before a Ronan O'Gara drop goal snatched a 13-11 victory for the Irish, was swept away by a swashbuckling England outfit.
They have propped up the table eight times during the 11 previous Six Nations campaigns, but Wales coach Warren Gatland believes that Twickenham debacle will motivate them.
“They are dangerous because they will be hurting from the performance against England,” said Gatland.
“We know how tough they are at home. It (Rome) has been a banana skin for Wales in the past, and it was a tough game for us there two years ago.
“The key for us is to build on confidence from the result against Scotland. I thought it was a very professional performance.”
Italy fans will hope their side can show the same defensive strength they displayed when they pushed Ireland to the very end last month, while the Azzurri will hope their fans – that never stopped cheering against Ireland – will give them the edge come kick-off.
Wales though, with their pack in consistently strong form, should have enough power and quality to put Italy away, marking centre James Hook's 50th cap and coach Warren Gatland's Wales record-equalling 35th Test at the helm in fitting fashion.
Ones to watch:
For Italy: It's simple. Stop Azzurri captain Sergio Parisse and Wales will be half-way from beating Italy. The Stade Francais number eight played in Italy's 2007 winning team against Wales, and delivered a man-of-the-match display when they lost narrowly two years ago. When he does something exceptional in a game it lifts the Italians. They all look up to him, so if the Welsh stop him playing they can stop Italy from getting any momentum.
For Wales: Fly-half Stephen Jones will move alongside Martyn Williams in second place on Wales' all-time appearance list when he wins his 98th cap against Italy, but it's out wide where you want to keep an eye out for wing Shane Williams who needs two tries to equal Ian Smith's international championship career record of 24 touchdowns.
Head to head: The front row. The obvious battle will always be between the two front rows whenever Italy take to the field. We know what the Italy heavies capable of, and Wales face their biggest test up front after impressing against England and the Scots. Keep an eye on the midfield battle too between Gonzalo Canale and James Hook where the latter will start in his third different position of this year's Six Nations.
2010 Wales won 33-10 in Cardiff
2009 Wales won 20-15 in Rome
2008 Wales won 47-8 in Cardiff
2007 Italy won 23-20 in Rome
2006 Drew 18-18 in Cardiff
2005 Wales won 38-8 in Rome
2004 Wales won 44-10 in Cardiff
2003 Wales won 27-15 in Canberra (World Cup)
2003 Italy won 30-22 in Rome
2002 Wales won 44-20 in Cardiff
2001 Wales won 33-23 in Rome
2000 Wales won 7-0 Cardiff
Prediction: Wales are still in the Six Nations equation but if they get into an arm-wrestle with the Italians, they will struggle. As always, Italy will make life tough for the visiting team but we just can't see an upset on the cards. Wales to win by nine points.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Kris Burton, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Santiao Dellape, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Valerio Bernabo, 19 Manoa Vosawai, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Morgan Stoddart, 13 James Hook, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Matthew Rees (c), 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 John Yapp, 18 Jonathan Thomas, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Rhys Priestland, 22 Leigh Halfpenny.
Date: Saturday, February 26
Venue: Stadio Flaminio, Rome
Kick-off: 15.30 (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), John Lacey (Ireland)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)