By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
Wales know they must stall Italy’s “coast to coast” attacking game in their quest for an overdue Guinness Six Nations victory on Saturday.
The only countries without a Six Nations win this season go head to head at Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
It is 20 years since Wales finished bottom of the pile and were wooden spoon recipients, but that scenario could now easily unfold.
📍Siamo arrivati 🇮🇹#WelshRugby | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/ssRH0zobFM
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 9, 2023
Successive defeats against Ireland, Scotland and England have left Wales scrambling around the Six Nations basement, yet to break their points duck and scoring only three tries in more than four hours of rugby.
Italy are one point above them, courtesy of a losing bonus collected against France, but six tries in losses to Les Bleus, England and Ireland showcased an adventurous approach.
“They are definitely the most athletic (Italy) side that we’ve seen,” Wales head coach Warren Gatland said.
“They try to play a wide-wide game. They have had some success in the tournament, but they have also been squeezed.
“England knocked them back and put them under pressure, and Ireland changed defensively after being caught narrow and put them under pressure as they got more width in the second half.
“They will try to move the ball from their own 22 and play a lot of rugby from coast to coast.
“If you get caught and get narrow, you will get punished. But you can also get rewards from getting your spacing and line speed right.”
Gatland has chopped and changed in terms of selection throughout the tournament, with only Josh Adams, Joe Hawkins, captain Ken Owens and Adam Beard being picked to start all four games.
🏴 The @WelshRugbyUnion side to take on the Italians 💪#AwakenAnticipation #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/CH62uJmUvH
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 9, 2023
Wales have just five matches left before a testing World Cup opener against Fiji in Bordeaux on September 10, with work continuing on combinations and forging the right blend of youth and experience.
There is another opportunity for a new Wales centre partnership of Mason Grady and Hawkins, while Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins has been preferred to the 157-cap Alun Wyn Jones as Beard’s second-row colleague.
Gatland added: “We’ve had a lot of changes and midfield partnerships, so it is about getting some continuity there.
“There is a 9-10-12 familiarity there with the Ospreys (Rhys Webb, Owen Williams and Hawkins) and the centre partnership from the (Wales) Under-20s.
“Dafydd Jenkins is still learning his roles in terms of calling the lineouts, defensively, but he has got a bit of a hard edge about him.
“For him, the challenge is the pace and intensity of international rugby and coping with that.
“He is physical and carries the ball well, and he has definitely got a lot of attributes in terms of improving over time, really.
“We are still giving players a chance to impress. There is a balance between continuity and seeing where players are at this level.
“There are some players who have improved and others who still need time at this level.”
A 33-strong playing group will head from Rome to Nice, with Wales basing themselves on the Mediterranean coast for five days ahead of tackling France.
But the immediate priority is a first win since Wales toppled Argentina four months ago and improving a miserable 20 per cent success rate over the last 15 Tests.