Wales set to add to Italy’s losing streak

Date published: February 8 2019

Italy face another daunting task when they take on Wales in their Round Two Six Nations encounter at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.

The Azzurri head into this match low on confidence after suffering a 33-20 defeat to Scotland in their tournament opener at Murrayfield last weekend.

The Italians have been struggling in recent years and have lost their last 18 matches in the competition which is the worst losing streak in Five/Six Nations history.

The scoreline in their opener is a flattering reflection of that match as Scotland dominated three quarters of it and were leading 33-3 midway through the second half until Italy scored three late tries in the closing stages.

Apart from their poor start to the tournament, the Azzurri have also struggled in this fixture over the years as Wales have been victorious in 16 of the 19 Tests between these countries.

Of the three remaining meetings, Italy have won twice and there was one draw. However, the hosts will gain confidence from the fact that those two victories were registered in Rome, in 2003 and 2007.

By contrast, Wales made a winning start to their 2019 Six Nations campaign thanks to a 24-19 triumph over France at the Stade de France in Paris. They had to dig deep to secure that result, though after trailing 16-0 at half-time.

Head coach Warren Gatland has rung the changes to his starting line-up for this clash and opted to rest most of his first choice players, while experienced outside centre Jonathan Davies will captain his country for the first time.

Gatland’s Wales are on the cusp of a momentous achievement as they have now won their last 10 matches which equals the country’s record winning streak in the era of professional rugby.

The overall record stands at 11 successive matches, which dates back to between 1907 and 1910.

Despite that shaky performance against France, Wales will still be favourites for this encounter as they have never been beaten by the Azzurri under Gatland’s guidance.

But despite that statistic, the Wales mentor is approaching this match with caution and is not underestimating his hosts.

“I have been to Rome a number of times. Italy can make it difficult for you and the weather conditions might play a big part,” said Gatland.

“The last time I was there in 2015, it was 14-13 at half time and we scored 47 points in the second half. You have just got to keep your patience.

“If we can win our first two games away from home, it sets us up nicely.”

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Players to watch:

For Italy: If Italy want to end their unbeaten run, then their pack have to front up and one player who will relish the forward battle is young flanker Sebastian Negri. The 24-year-old plies his trade with PRO14 outfit Benetton and has been at the forefront of his club’s superb run in that competition. Negri’s physicality is one of his strengths, with his ball carrying particularly impressive, and if his tight five can compete with their more fancied opponents, he could wreak havoc on attack.

For Wales: After starting on the bench in last week’s victory over France in Paris, Dan Biggar has been promoted to the starting line-up for this fixture. Biggar came on early in the second half against Les Bleus and played an instrumental role during his side’s fightback in Paris. Although Wales will not underestimate the Azzurri, they will be hoping to secure a big win and the Northampton Saints pivot will be expected to lead his side’s attacking onslaught and also keep the scoreboard ticking with accurate goalkicking.

Head-to-head: Both sides have fine outside centres in their respective run-on sides and the duel between Wales captain Jonathan Davies and Italy’s Michele Campagnaro should be a thrilling and action-packed one. Davies is arguably the world’s best player in his position and his brilliance on attack makes him a danger to any opposing defenders. However, he faces a tough challenge against Campagnaro, a fleet-footed runner who is also back in his first-choice position after starting on the left wing against Scotland. Both are also good defenders and this duel could prove pivotal in the bigger scheme of things.

Previous results:

2018: Wales won 38-14 in Cardiff
2017: Wales won 33-7 in Rome
2016: Wales won 67-14 in Cardiff
2015: Wales won 23-19 in Cardiff
2015: Wales won 61-20 in Rome
2014: Wales won 23-15 in Cardiff
2013: Wales won 26-9 in Rome
2012: Wales won 24-3 in Cardiff

Prediction: Although Wales have opted to rest most of their first-choice players, they will still prove too strong for the Azzurri. Wales to win by 13 points.

The teams:

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 David Sisi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore’, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jonathan Davies(c), 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Hallam Amos

Date: Saturday, February 9
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 17:45 local (16:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)