Preview: Italy v Wales

Date published: March 20 2015

The final day drama begins in Rome as Wales look to put the pedal to the floor when they take on Italy at the Stadio Olimpico this Saturday.

Wales don't know an exact total of points they need but it's going to be a case of the more the merrier for Warren Gatland's resurgent side.

Then will come Ireland's charge and finally England as the Championship goes down to the last week, possibly the final minute at Twickenham.

Some have differing views on who has the advantage – Wales playing first, or England knowing their task – and the jury remains out on that one as who knows which Scotland and France teams pitch up. Wales will hope a club-v-country row in France rallies and not hinders les Bleus.

Of course the Welsh can only control what is in front of them and that is an Italian side wounded from what was their worst performance of the Six Nations this year, against the French. Jacques Brunel's charges were dire last week and could not even muster a point on home soil.

Changes have subsequently been made by the Azzurri and their front-row is arguably their strongest of the campaign as Martin Castrogiovanni and the in-form Michele Rizzo pack down either side of the consistent Leonardo Ghiraldini. A very Leicester feel to that, past and present.

Sergio Parisse's absence due to injury is a significant setback and one Wales will have been quietly happy to see, with Italy's leadership stocks hurt by that news. So, if Gatland's charges can get amongst this altered Italian pack and starve them of ball that would offer them the structure and set-piece they require to slow down the match, chances will come for the visiting backline threats, notably George North.

It will, however, be a balancing act for Wales as one expects Leigh Halfpenny to go for goal instead of the corners early in order to take Italy's heart. But as soon as they sense the hosts' guard being down, expect all hell to let loose at the Stadio Olimpico with the likes of Justin Tipuric, Ken Owens, Scott Williams and Gareth Davies – all of whom are attacking talents – to be introduced around the 50 minute mark.

Gatland deserves credit for making the hard call on the bench at scrum-half as Davies was top try-scorer in the PRO12 last season. Granted, 2014/15 has been interrupted by a knee injury and more recently the form of Aled Davies in Llanelli, but he could turn out to be Wales' ace in the hole as Wales swap their defensive heroics shown against Ireland for all-out attack on Saturday in what should be a thrilling match.

Ones to watch: For Italy: Italian shoes don't get much bigger than the ones Samuela Vunisa and Leonardo Ghiraldini have to fill in the absence of Sergio Parisse. A talismanic leader whilst being a skillful and couragous player, Parisse's absence could be hard felt. It won't, however, if Vunisa displays some of his flashes of quality he has shown for Treviso and Ghiraldini steps up as a skipper. It is a huge ask.

For Wales: Scarlets loosehead prop Rob Evans is given a golden opportunity to impress this week due to the absence of Gethin Jenkins. Evans is a quality player though and has impressed in the PRO12 this season, with his handling skills, pace and set-piece solidity catching the eye. Team-mate Gareth Davies will offer a scoring threat off the bench but George North has to be that from the start.

Head-to-head: We have not yet mentioned the absence of Samson Lee, which is a blow for Wales not only this Saturday but also for the World Cup. In his place comes Aaron Jarvis who needs to do what Nicolas Mas and Rabah Slimani managed last weekend in Rome, dominate their opposite number. Matias Aguero misses out altogether for Italy while substitute Alberto de Marchi remains on bench duty, as in comes Michele Rizzo after an impressive effort in the LV= Cup semi-final. Wales need front-foot ball for tries. Can Jarvis help provide it.

Recent results:

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: Momentum will be critical to Wales and if they can keep the tempo high, the points will come. Wales by 30!

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Enrico Bacchin.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.

Date: Saturday, March 21
Kick-off: 13:30 local (12:30 GMT)
Venue: Stadio Olímpico, Rome
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Luke Pearce (England)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Donal Courtney (Ireland)