Preview: Wales v Italy

Date published: September 4 2015

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Confidence is sky high in the Welsh camp after their Rugby World Cup warm-up victory in Ireland and they will look to build on that against Italy.

One final 80 minutes remains before they recover and prepare to face Uruguay in what they hope will be a lethal procession at this same venue.

There is little doubt who the man of the match was against the Irish in Dublin and Justin Tipuric is now taking the weekend off as captain Sam Warburton returns. In all honestly it would be odd not to see Warren Gatland go with both players in the back-row against the South Americans, with points difference likely to be a factor in the pool shake-up. Dan Lydiate would be the one to miss their opener before stifling the pool's big fish.

Gatland has however chosen not to rest first-choice half-back duo Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar as it seems he would like one final hit-out for his playmakers and also the likes of Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny, Scott Williams and George North. Taulupe Faletau is another keeping his place, with few alternatives at number eight.

It's been an excellent week all told for Wales as that Dublin win was followed by positive news on the recoveries of Liam Williams and Samson Lee. Meanwhile Lee's replacement, Tomas Francis, impressed on debut which creates real depth in a key area. He also starts in successive weeks.

Unlike Uruguay, the Azzurri will be no walkover on Saturday and with the return of Sergio Parisse, Andrea Masi and Edoardo Gori among others, they will be desperate to respond from the hammering they took against Scotland. Wales embarrassing them in Rome back in March may also sting.

That Six Nations result displayed the first signs of the much-talked about fitter and stronger Wales ahead of the World Cup, with some pundits querying whether they had peaked prematurely. A repeat margin like that 61-10 win would say otherwise but will they show all their cards now?

Indeed this is set to be a game where Wales put their foot to the floor for an hour before key personnel such as the front-row, half-backs and Halfpenny take their leave and we see possibly one of their trump cards for the World Cup, Matthew Morgan, emerge. Things are warming nicely for Gatland and with the mindgames already started with Stuart Lancaster, having a fully fit squad and another victory to speak of would be just the ticket.

Ones to watch:

For Wales: Justin Tipuric set a standard last week against Ireland and Sam Warburton will look to follow it against the Azzurri. The Welsh captain joins Taulupe Faletau and James King in the back-row while Tomas Francis gets successive Test starts following a very impressive debut in Dublin. Saturday is also a big opportunity for Alex Cuthbert to make a statement on the wing as he looks for tries.

For Italy: After a good break from the action, captain Sergio Parisse is back in the Italian side at number eight. His importance to the Azzurri has been well documented over the years and it would be typical of the man to need little time to get back up to speed with Test rugby. Andrea Masi is also recalled along with first-choice scrum-half Edoardo Gori, who returns to the fold after his suspension.

Head-to-head: Two strong wings clash at the Millennium Stadium as George North and Leonardo Sarto go toe-to-toe. North is eager to get minutes under his belt after issues with concussion and coming through unscathed for the second fixture in a week would do his and Welsh fans' confidence a power of good. Sarto meanwhile is a rangy runner who has power and speed off the mark. He is not to be underestimated.

Recent results:

2015: Wales won 61-10 in Rome
2014: Wales won 23-15 in Cardiff
2013: Wales won 26-9 in Rome
2012: Wales won 24-3 in Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-16 in Rome
2010: Wales won 33-10 in Cardiff
2009: Wales won 20-15 in Rome
2008: Wales won 47-8 in Cardiff

Prediction: Italy will look to avoid a repeat of Murrayfield. They will improve but go down to Wales by 25!

The teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 James King, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Matthew Morgan.

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Luke McLean.

Date: Saturday, September 5
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17:00 local
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (England), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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