No regrets for 'chubby' Wales star Evans over teenage switch to front-row
Had he had his way, Nicky Smith would be lining up against Italy captain Sergio Parisse at No 8 for Wales tomorrow rather than packing down in the front-row.
The loosehead prop, who beat the in-form Rob Evans to the starting spot for Wales' Six Nations opener in Rome, began life at his boyhood club Waunarlwydd at the base of the scrum before realising around the age of 10 or 11 that he was "too short and chubby" for No 8 and that the front row would be his best option.
"My team manager moved me down there and I had a few arguments with him because I didn't want to do it," recalled Smith (pictured). "Luckily, I listened to him. I'd like to have been the next Sergio Parisse, but I was nowhere near to be fair."
Smith, who joined the Ospreys aged 18, returned to the Wales side in November after 13 months out with pec and ankle injuries and was one of only a handful of Welsh players to emerge with credit from a mediocre autumn campaign.
So much so that despite the form of Scarlets rival Evans, who missed those games through injury, the 22-year-old has hung on to his starting spot.
"I play my best rugby when there's competition and Rob is a great player," Evans said.
"We push each other well. I know I'll have to produce my best performance with Rob there as I could lose my shirt quite easily."
With veteran Gethin Jenkins out with a bicep injury, there is a sense that the Wales loosehead berth is there to be grabbed long-term. And Smith is hoping that, having shed a bit of weight, he can offer more in the loose than he has in the past.
The son of an amateur bodybuilder, the 17st 11lb prop he eased off on the weights of late.
"I've dropped a little bit of weight. I was maybe concentrating on scrummaging too much and that meant my work around the field was suffering," he says.
That's something I want to bring to my game and I feel like it's going in the right direction."
Wales have put 60 points on Italy the last two times they have played them, and have not lost to the Azzurri in a decade, but Italy's new coach Conor O'Shea insists they will face a different team this year - one which has grown in confidence since beating South Africa in the autumn.
"We know that the last two games against them have been very difficult for us, but we focus on ourselves, on the work to be done," said the former Ireland full-back. We have to impose our game-plan on them.
"We want a great, great performance to make everyone understand that we are on the right track."
Wales - L Halfpenny - G North, J Davies, S Williams, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, K Owens, S Lee, J Ball, A W Jones (capt), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty. Reps: S Baldwin, R Evans, T Francis, C Hill, J King, G Davies, S Davies, J Roberts.
Italy - E Padovani; G Bisegni, T Benvenuti, L McLean, G Venditti; C Canna, E Gori; A Lovotti, O Gega, L Cittadini, M Fuser, G Biagi, A Steyn, M Mbanda, S Parisse (capt). Reps: L Ghiraldini, S Panico, P Ceccarelli, J Furno, F Minto, G Bronzini, T Allan, M Campagnaro.
Ref - JP Doyle