‘We’re expecting fireworks from Italy’, reveals Wales winger Alex Cuthbert
WALES wing Alex Cuthbert expects the Italian team that turned up spectacularly against France three weeks ago to reappear at Stadio Olimpico tomorrow.
Whether or not the Azzurri can hit such heights against Wales remains to be seen, especially as they will be without their suspended skipper and best player Sergio Parisse.
And they are also on the back of a demoralising 34-10 defeat against Scotland, but Cuthbert - a try-scorer in last season's RBS 6 Nations clash between the countries - is braced for an intense examination.
"They showed what they can do at top level against France," he said.
"They will be the same as they were against France at home, and it will be a tough challenge. We will have to front-up."
Wales, though, are in a much better place than when the Six Nations campaign started, having ended a demoralising run of eight successive defeats by beating France.
Indeed, they could still retain their title with successive victories over Italy, Scotland and England.
Interim head coach Rob Howley reacted to the Paris win by announcing an unchanged team within 72 hours of that game finishing, and Cuthbert added: "Morale is really high.
"The boys thought it (early selection) was a good call. The side has been together pretty much for the past two weeks. We've done a lot of sessions together as a team.
"We tried to play a bit of rugby against France, and with the confidence of getting that win and putting all those losses behind us hopefully we can play the way we did in the Six Nations last year.
"We tried to play rugby against France, but in those sort of games you are not going to get many chances. France defended well, as we did, but when we did get that chance we took it and ended up winning the game."
Cuthbert has claimed four touchdowns in Wales' last half-dozen Six Nations Tests, and he is enjoying a roving role encouraged by Howley and his coaching staff.
"In some games you don't get the ball as much," he said.
"But Rob gives me a free role to go and get the ball as much as I can and get as many touches as I can, and that will be the case against Italy, looking for mis-matches against their forwards.
"They have a big front-five and the majority of their play is based around them, so if we get our chances on the counter-attack then we have to make the most of them."
Victory tomorrow would keep Wales in title contention, although hopes of silverware wil be out of their hands unless unbeaten England lose somewhere down the line.
"The championship is definitely possible, but we are taking one game at a time," Cuthbert added. "Momentum-wise we need a win against Italy on the back of the win in France.
"Hopefully we are going to keep the winning run going now. The boys are really excited about this game."
And with two recent Wales captains - Sam Warburton and Alun-Wyn Jones - on the bench tomorrow after recovering from injuries, there is potential for the reigning Six Nations champions to really make their presence felt.
"We have captains all over the field. Jamie (Roberts) captains our defence, for instance, and everyone has a role and a say in the team," Cuthbert said.
"We have strength in depth at the moment. Sam is the type of guy who can adapt, and I know when he comes on he is going to play really well and offer a lot to the team."