Thursday 18 January 2018

Webb back to face Italy and put Wales in the mood for New Zealand

Wales' Rhys Webb lies on the ground injured during the World Cup Warm up match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Wales' Rhys Webb lies on the ground injured during the World Cup Warm up match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

James Corrigan

Six months on from the worst moment of his career, Rhys Webb will, with a little help from his grandmother's mobility scooter, have travelled full circle when he runs out for Wales today .

It was against Italy in the final World Cup warm-up match that the scrum-half suffered his dream-shattering foot injury and it is against the same opposition at the same stadium that he returns to Wales' starting XV.

Wales will be looking to bounce back from last Saturday's painful and, at times, baffling defeat at Twickenham as well as raising some hope for the summer's three-Test tour to New Zealand.

The 27-year-old's mind has inevitably been dragged back to the 27th minute on September 5.

"I knew straight away it was job done," Webb said. "It was heart-breaking."

Webb underwent surgery and was informed that the Six Nations was unlikely. A natural live-wire, he could do nothing but sit on the sofa and stew.


Until his father came up with a novel solution.

"I needed to take my mind off things," Webb said. "So my dad chucked my nan's mobility scooter into the back of his van and I roamed around the streets on that. It has two speeds - a tortoise on one side and a cheetah on the other, and I was always trying to max it out."

While he did that, his replacement, Gareth Davies, was making his name. Yet there can little doubt that Webb is the more complete package. After an impressive cameo at Twickenham, Webb was the only unenforced change in the starting XV. As Justin Tipuric puts it: "Rhys has that X-factor."

Webb will be urged by the crowd to direct an all-singing, all-dancing classic. With the weather set fair and the shackles off, there will be the wish for a reprise of last year's try-fest in which Wales ran in seven second-half touchdowns.

"The Welsh public will want to see a response," Webb said. "We are not going to go out there and chuck it around willy-nilly.

"We know when it is on and when it isn't. When it is on this week, it will be on and I hope we see some nice tries."

Certainly there will be no sympathy for Jacques Brunel in his final match as Italy coach after a five-year tenure. This could be a sour finale and result in Conor O'Shea arriving in the hot-seat with the case for promotion and relegation seemingly gaining support.

While Brunel will be relieved to see Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones absent with concussion and a foot problem respectively, he will, once again, be relying heavily on Sergio Parisse.

In contrast, Wales want to prove they can go their multi-personnel dimensions. It will be a big surprise if, by the latter stages the dial is not jammed on to full cheetah speed.

Verdict: Wales

Wales - L Williams; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, H Amos; D Biggar, R Webb; R Evans, S Baldwin, S Lee; B Davies, L Charteris, D Lydiate (capt), J Tipuric, T Faletau. Reps: K Owens, G Jenkins, A Jarvis, J Ball, R Moriarty, G Davies, R Priestland, G Anscombe.

ITALY - D Odiete; L Sarto, A Pratichetti, G Garcia, M Bellini; T Allan, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, D Giazzon, M Castrogiovanni; Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo; F Minto, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt). Reps: O Fabiani, M Zanusso, D Chistolini, J Sarto, A Steyn, A Lucchese, K Haimona, L McLean.

REF - R Poite (Fra)

Wales v Italy,

Live, RTE 2/BBC 1, 2.30

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