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Welsh play dumb as they eye record victory in bid to hijack title

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Neil Jenkins

Neil Jenkins

SPORTSFILE

Neil Jenkins

Wales find themselves facing almost the same scenario as England 12 months ago in needing to beat Italy handsomely in the final round of matches to give themselves a shot of winning the title.

Just like England did, Wales have taken utmost care to avoid offending the hosts. Everyone knows the equation but no one is saying it out loud for fear of providing Jacques Brunel with a ready-made team talk for his final Six Nations match in charge of the Azzurri. Hence the usual platitudes of respecting the opposition and controlling the controlables.

Neil Jenkins, the Wales skills coach, took levels of disingenuousness to new heights by claiming not to be aware of the points difference permutations. "We don't even look at it," Jenkins said. "We are not interested. The main objective and focus for us is obviously winning. If other things happen, well so be it."

England boast a 25-point difference cushion over Wales, with Ireland holding a 21-point advantage. Assuming that neither slip up later today then Wales will probably need a 30-point plus win in Italy. They have only once achieved such a margin of victory in Rome, a 38-8 win in 2005.

Yet Italy are traditionally terrible finishers. Last year, England walloped them 52-11 which, if Wales matched that, would put them in the driving seat to be champions. The Azzurri are also coming into the game after a six-day turnaround and without Sergio Parisse, their inspirational captain.

Weaknesses

Even with Parisse and a decent rest, Italy were woeful in the 29-0 defeat by France. The suspicion is that they feel they have accomplished what they set out to achieve by beating Scotland away. Wales, though, have weaknesses, not least in the scrum.

Speaking before the tournament, a Wales coach was asked if anyone was irreplaceable. "Samson Lee" was his reply. That nightmare scenario is now a reality after the tighthead ruptured an Achilles tendon against Ireland. Gone too is Gethin Jenkins with a hamstring injury, and Paul James, his usual loosehead deputy, is also out.

Warren Gatland has been forced to hand a first start to Rob Evans at loosehead and a second start in three years to Aaron Jarvis at tighthead. The Azzurri's front-row of Michele Rizzo, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni, with a combined 198 caps, will be licking their lips at the prospect of attacking a tender Welsh unit with only 18 caps.

"Everything starts from first phase - the scrum and lineout - so we will focus on that," said stand-in skipper Ghiraldini.

Other than the props, Gatland keeps faith with the side which beat Ireland 26-19 although he admitted the coaches had "a massive debate" whether to promote try-scorer Scott Williams from the bench.

The impact of the replacements will be decisive if Wales are to run up a score when Italy usually tire - hence the promotion of speedy scrum-half Gareth Davies at Mike Phillips' expense.

The wings have yet to score in this tournament but Liam Williams hopes to do so. It would be fitting if he was the hero 10 months after his shoulder charge on Cornal Hendricks resulted in a penalty try and a 31-30 defeat by South Africa.

"It was a shoulder charge but it all happened in a split second," Williams said. "If I could go back in time, I'd just smash him into touch using my arms and Wales would have had a famous victory. But it wasn't to be and I had to learn the hard way.

"I had a lot of stick, but it goes in one ear and out the other." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Italy - L McLean; L Sarto, L Morisi, A Masi, G Venditti; K Haimona, E Gori; M Rizzo, L Ghiraldini (capt), M Castrogiovanni, G Biagi, J Furno, F Minto, M Bergamasco, S Vunisa. Reps: A Manici, A De Marchi, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys, R Barbieri, G Palazzani, L Orquera, E Bacchin.

Wales - L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; R Evans, S Baldwin, A Jarvis, L Charteris, A-W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau. Reps: K Owens, R Gill, S Andrews, J Ball, J Tipuric, G Davies, R Priestland, S Williams.

Ref - Chris Pollock (NZ)

Italy v Wales

Live, RTE/BBC, 12.30

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