Wales 23 - 15 Italy

Match info: Six Nations at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Date: 01/02/2014 KO: 14:30 Att: 66,974

Home team/scorers Scores Away team/scorers

Wales

TriesCuthbert (4) Williams (39)ConversionsHalfpenny (4, 39)PenaltiesHalfpenny (29, 67, 74)

23
vs
15

Italy

TriesCampagnaro (43, 69)ConversionsAllan (69)PenaltiesAllan (14)

FT (ht: 17-3)

  • Last Updated: January 31 2014, 16:07 GMT

Wales will be aiming to make an immediate statement of intent when they launch their bid for an unprecedented Six Nations hat-trick on Saturday.

Wales are aiming for a hat-trick of Six Nations titles
Wales are aiming for a hat-trick of Six Nations titles

Warren Gatland's side have been beaten just once in the last 10 games in the tournament and are red-hot favourites against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy this weekend.

The hosts will be looking to put down an early marker with sterner tests awaiting against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday week and then England at Twickenham in early March.

The Welsh have never lost at home to the Italians, winning eight of their nine meetings in the principality and drawing the other. They have also won the last three matches on home soil by a combined total of 83 points.

However, the Italians won't be pushovers, having opened up last year's tournament with a 23-18 win over France before finishing up by beating Ireland 22-15.

"We have to go out in our first game and express ourselves like champions," Wales centre Jamie Roberts said. "Warren has spoken about having a little bit of a strut in our stride and really being quite confident.

"We can't go into our shells on the pitch, we have to go out and walk the walk."

Regular captain Sam Warburton is on the bench because he's not yet fully match fit following a shoulder injury, so Wales will be led by lock Alun Wyn Jones, who also deputised as skipper for the flanker in the final Test for the British and Irish Lions against Australia in Sydney last year.

Meanwhile, Dan Lydiate, another Lions star on that tour, is all set to take his place in the pack following the birth of his first child during the week.

Behind the scrum, Lydiate's Racing Metro and Lions team-mate Jamie Roberts returns at centre, after missing last year's November Tests due to injury, with Gatland's most contentious choice coming at fly-half where the Scarlets' Rhys Priestland has edged out Dan Biggar.

With points machine Leigh Halfpenny at full-back and winger George North also included, Wales ought to have more than enough pace and power to beat their opponents.

The Azzurri are plagued by injuries and coach Jacques Brunel has decided to give Benetton Treviso winger Angelo Esposito his debut, while also starting inexperienced Michele Campagnaro, Leonardo Sarto and Tommaso Allan.

Veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco will become Italy's longest serving player overtaking the legendary Sergio Lanfranchi.

Among those absent through injury are Wasps full-back Andrea Masi, Zebre wing Giovanbattista Venditti and La Rochelle centre Gonzalo Canale.

Brunel has urged his players to keep defensive mistakes to a minimum in Cardiff.

"Wales are one of the strongest teams in Europe," the Frenchman said. "But I think this Italy side can give interesting responses on Saturday.

"The Welsh potential is high, but we can counter that with efficiency. When we faced them in 2012 and 2013, we reached half-time still in the game. We then made mistakes that allowed them to extend their lead. his time we will try to remain close to them until the end.

"It's obvious that we will go out to the pitch to win, but more than anything I expect from my team important steps in terms of technique and, first and foremost, a defence that returns to the level that we had in last year's edition."

Teams:

Wales: 15 Halfpenny, 14 Cuthbert, 13 S. Williams, 12 Roberts, 11 North, 10 Priestland, 9 Phillips; 1 Tipuric, 2 Lydiate, 3 Wyn Jones (capt), 4 Charteris, 5 A. Jones, 6 R. Hibbard, 7 James, 8 Faletau

Replacements: 16 Owens, 17 Bevington, 18 Jones, 19 Coombs, 20 Warburton, 21 Webb, 22 Hook, 23 Williams.

Italy: 15 McLean, 14 Esposito, 13 Campagnaro, 12 Sgarbi, 11 Sarto, 10 Allan, 9 Gori; 1 Bergamasco, 2 Zanni, 3 Bortolami, 4 Geldenhuys, 5 Castrogiovanni, 6 Ghiraldini, 7 Rizzo, 8 Parisse (capt)

Replacements: 16 Giazzon, 17 De Marchi, 18 Cittadini, 19 Furno, 20 Minto, 21 Botes, 22 Orquera, 23 Iannone.


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