Williams believes Welsh can take title
When interviewed last week, Shane Williams talked excitedly about Wales continuing their "winning streak" today in Rome. Then he realised, to much amusement, that it consists at present of just the one win, over Scotland a fortnight ago.
But all Williams was doing was emphasising the importance of that victory.
It came after eight failed attempts, and even if there were defeats against decent opposition in England, New Zealand (three times), South Africa (twice), Australia and a rogue draw against Fiji, desperation was growing.
Wales is now a happier place and Williams arrived in Rome on Thursday reflecting that. "I still think Wales can win the Six Nations. There is so much to come from this squad. It was not the prettiest performance against Scotland, but we did what we had to do," he said.
Williams, who has scored nine tries in eight Tests against Italy, claimed Wales' two tries against Scotland.
But, as is the way in Wales, all the talk after the Scotland game concerned the No 10 jersey and James Hook's return at fly-half. Today Hook finds himself shunted back into the centre, his third position in three games.
Jonathan Davies was unable to shrug off a hamstring strain and Wales simply did not consider another centre in Wales worthy of promotion.
So, the veteran Stephen Jones returns for his 98th cap, placing him alongside Martyn Williams as Wales' second-most capped player, with only Gareth Thomas (100) ahead of them.
Italy also change their fly-half today, with Kristopher Burton, impressive in the narrow opening-day defeat to Ireland, returning in place of Luciano Orquera after the 29-year-old's defensive catastrophe in the 59-13 rout by England two weeks ago.
In two other changes the Canadian-born Robert Barbieri bolsters the back-row and Santiago Dellape the second-row in a bid to rectify a line-out that misfired horribly against England.
Williams is 34 today. A shock Welsh defeat is not the sort of birthday present he deserves. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Italy -- L McLean, A Masi, G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco, K Burton, F Semenzato, S Parisse, R Barbieri, A Zanni, Q Geldenhuys, S Dellape, M Castrogiovanni, L Ghiraldini, S Perugini Reps: C Festuccia, A Lo Cicero, V Bernabo, M Vosawai, P Canavosio, L Orquera, T Benvenuti.
Wales -- LL Byrne; M Stoddart, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams ; S Jones, M Phillips; P James, M Rees (Capt), C Mitchell, B Davies, A-W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton, R Jones. Reps: R Hibbard, J Yapp, J Thomas, J Turnbull, T Knoyle, R Priestland, L Halfpenny.
Ref -- W Barnes (England).
Italy v Wales,
Live, BBC 1/RTE 2, 2.30