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LionsWatch: Italy v Wales preview

LionsWatch: Italy v Wales preview

Having taken over the British & Irish Lions captaincy from Sam Warburton during the victorious 2013 Tour of Australia, Alun Wyn Jones will be hoping for a similar result after taking the reins for this year’s RBS 6 Nations.

“They know what winning looks and smells like, and that's the challenge on Sunday.”

Having taken over the British & Irish Lions captaincy from Sam Warburton during the victorious 2013 Tour of Australia, Alun Wyn Jones will be hoping for a similar result after taking the reins for this year’s RBS 6 Nations.

Jones leads a Wales side packed full of talent that will be determined to improve on last year’s second-place finish, when a slow start against eventual champions England cost them dear.

Plus there is the added spice of a Lions Tour to New Zealand right around the corner, and a number of Wales’ stars will be looking tosecure their places on Tour.

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Up first for Jones and acting head coach Rob Howley – in charge of Wales in place of Lions head coach Warren Gatland – is an Italy side that looked rejuvenated under new head coach Conor O’Shea in the autumn.
 
TEAM NEWS
 
Wales have the advantage of starting this campaign with relatively few injuries compared with the likes of England and France, although both Bath forwards Taulupe Faletau and Luke Charteris are out of the Stadio Olimpico encounter.

Leigh Halfpenny will once again look to show he is indispensable with the boot as he starts at full-back, having missed the entirety of last year’s RBS 6 Nations.

Elsewhere, scrum-half Rhys Webb is recalled after missing most of Wales' autumn Test series this season through injury, the only back division switch from the side that beat South Africa in November.

Ospreys loosehead Nicky Smith takes over from the injured Gethin Jenkins, while Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Sam Warburton all come into the side.

Italy meanwhile have included ten of the starting line-up that accounted for South Africa in November, with Edoardo Gori's return at scrum-half the solitary change from the back division that started the Springboks clash in Florence.

WRU TV: Behind the scenes with the Wales senior team as they travel to Rome for their opening @SixNationsRugby clash against Italy pic.twitter.com/aXtUBkNWiN

— Welsh Rugby Union ? (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 3, 2017

HEAD-TO-HEAD
 
Wales have not lost to the Italians in their last nine RBS 6 Nations encounters, with their last defeat – a 23-20 reverse at Rome’s Stadio Flaminio – coming all the way back in 2007, and Wales skipper Jones is the only survivor from that side.

With no Faletau for Wales, No.8 Ross Moriarty will take on a key role and become the focal point of Wales' carries.

It will be a huge battle between the Gloucester man and Italy’s No.8 Sergio Parisse, and with just one RBS 6 Nations appearances to his name he stands in stark contrast to the Azzuri’s talisman who has 55.

Moriarty however was one of Wales’ standout performers in the autumn, and his two tries against Italy in last year's 67-14 win at Principality Stadium is a promising omen.

If anyone is going to test Moriarty's burgeoning reputation it is Parisse and both will need to be at their ball-carrying best to get their side on the front foot.
 

Due giorni prima della partita #Italrugby consiglia sempre di riporre i propri atleti nel congelatore ??????#ITAvWAL @BraamSteyn pic.twitter.com/t24t5xawdQ

— Italrugby (@Federugby) February 3, 2017

 
FAMILIAR FACES
 
No fewer than seven men from the 2013 Lions Tour will feature on Sunday, with former skipper Warburton teaming up with Justin Tipuric in the back row once more.

Lock Jones will lead out the side, just as he did for the Lions in 2013’s decisive Test in Sydney.

Meanwhile Wales’ backline is packed full of Lions talent, with top scorer from the Australia tour Leigh Halfpenny starting at full-back, and top try-scorer George North taking his place on the wing once more.

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Jonathan Davies starts his 60th Test match for Wales, and his 63rd overall having played in all three Tests against the Wallabies.

And Jamie Roberts will start on the bench for Wales in the RBS 6 Nations for the first time since Wales’ Grand Slam match against Ireland in Cardiff in 2009, with the in-form Scott Williams preferred in the middle of the park.
 
WHAT THEY'VE BEEN SAYING
 
Wales acting head coach Rob Howley:

He said: “We believe this is the best team to start the tournament. We are against a very competitive Italian side away from home in the Six Nations.

“We have picked experience, but they have to go out and play. The side that's been selected has about a 70 per cent winning ratio in the Six Nations.

“They know what winning looks and smells like in the Six Nations, and that's the challenge on Sunday.”
 
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones:

“Hopefully my performance [as captain] won’t be too different,” he said. “If it was, I probably shouldn’t be captain.

“I am a player first in terms of a job on the park.

“The captaincy obviously adds to that, and hopefully there is a bit of experience I have had in the past that I can lean on.

“I have had the experience to be out in Italy and lose, so I know both sides of the coin.

“I said to Rob that the pressure is on the team selected to go out there and perform.

“Our selection has been respectful to Italy. There have been cries for more changes and the blooding of youngsters. That will happen in time, I’m sure of it.”
 
TEAMS
 
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Ornel Gega, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 4 Marco Fuser, 5 George Biagi, 6 Abraham Steyn, 7 Maxime Mata Mbanda, 8 Sergio Parisse
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro
 
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Samson Lee, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 6 Sam Warburton, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

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