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Preview: Italy v Wales

22nd February 2013 01:53

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Kristopher Burton Italy v Wales 2012

In at fly-half: Kristopher Burton

Shorn of their star player and reeling from a huge step backwards at Murrayfield, a bruised Italy host Wales this weekend in Rome.

Pardon the melodrama, but Italy without Parisse is like Rome missing the colosseum. Take him away and you lose power, stature and a touch of grace from the Azzurri pack that is nearly impossible to replace.

Italy though must against Wales, so step forward Ratu Manoa Vosawai to fill the gulf. Rome was the scene of historic celebrations at the beginning of this month with victory over France and Parisse was essential to that success. His suspension deprives Italy of their talisman and all rugby fans of his great talent, but there is no excuse for his actions in insulting a referee.

That victory over France however has to be used as a benchmark. Luciano Orquera played the game of his life - deadly accurate in open play, picking the defence apart with his passing and genuinely resembling a completely different player to the one who has been struggling with Zebre at the bottom of the RaboDirect Pro12.

Orquera, however, was so bad against Scotland, that he has been dropped for Kristopher Burton. Attention will turn to Andrea Masi, Gonzalo Canale, Alessandro Zanni and captain for the day Martin Castrogiovanni to provide inspiration.

Whilst Italy on the one hand will have felt deflated following their capitulation at Murrayfield, Wales are bursting with pride.

Their win in Paris was far from a complete performance - their scrum whilst improved certainly benefited from the atrocious turf which prevented France from exerting any dominance - but their commitment in defence and execution when it mattered with George North's match-winning try brought to an end that miserable run of eight consecutive defeats.

An average tackle count of 13 from Andrew Coombs, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau summarised their afternoon - with enough hard-work results duly turned in their favour.

Wales have the ability to produce more alluring rugby than the slugfest served up in Paris, and the expectation is that they will go for broke in Rome. If they are to be contenders for the title then inroads have to be made into England's +26 points difference - and Wales will have no better opportunity than this weekend.

Ones to watch:

For Italy: All eyes will be on Ratu Manoa Vosawai as he puts on Parisse's shirt. If he can produce a similar impact to the regular Italian captain, then credit to him. With only two starts to his name out of ten caps - his only appearance at number eight came against Portugal in the 2007 Rugby World Cup - Vosawai lacks experience and is faced with a tough afternoon against the Welsh back-row. Elsewhere, Andrea Masi is flourishing for London Wasps in the centre but starts from full-back.

For Wales: Scotland proved that Italy are far from a defensive wall, meaning this weekend's fixture is made for tries. North may have grabbed the headlines in Paris, but Alex Cuthbert is due a big performance in this year's Six Nations - with Rome appearing to be the perfect opportunity to make his mark along with giving his Lions hopes a boost. Otherwise, attention should be paid to rising star Andrew Coombs in the second row - with the Dragon making a real impression in his first Six Nations championship so far.

Head-to-head: Italy might sense a slight chink in the Welsh scrum, so expect them to throw one of their more lethal weapons in Martin Castrogiovanni at Gethin Jenkins all afternoon. Jenkins has struggled for game-time at Toulon (Castro's future home) but is beginning to hit form, whilst Castrogiovanni will look to replicate his outstanding performance both in the set-piece and in the loose against France this weekend.

Recent results:

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
2007: Italy won 23-20 in Rome
2006: Draw 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

Prediction: Italy's form has been so wildly inconsistent over their first two games that it's difficult to predict which side will turn up. But the absence of Parisse will cut deep and Wales with their pride restored will now want to express themselves. Wales by 10

The teams:

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Ratu Manoa Vosawai, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c) 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
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, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
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.

Kick-off: 15:30 (14:30 GMT)
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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