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6 Nations

Preview: Much changed Welsh visit Rome in Round 2 of the Six Nations

Preview & Verdict.

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Wales have named a team for their trip to Rome on Saturday that includes 10 changes from last week’s stunning comeback victory over France.

Coach Warren Gatland made the same number of changes for the match against Italy last year, which saw Wales run out as 38-14 winners.

They take on an Italian side that will be looking to build on a strong finish against Scotland at Murrayfield last week.

Despite a 33-20 loss, Italy will take confidence from the fact they were able to score three tries and were close to a fourth in the final moments.

Wales

Among the 10 players Gatland has brought in for this game, four will be making their 6 Nations debuts. Flankers Thomas Young and Aaron Wainwright, scrum-half Aled Davies, and wing Jonah Holmes will all be making their first appearances in the tournament.

Second-row Alun Wyn Jones has been dropped to the bench, and will hand captaincy duties over to centre Jonathan Davies, who will be leading his country for the first time.

Josh Navidi retains his place in the back-row, but switches to number eight, with lock Adam Beard the only other forward surviving from 24-19 win in Paris.

Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Samson Lee form a new-look front row, with Jake Ball joining Beard in second-row.

Dan Biggar starts at fly-half, and Owen Watkin will join skipper Davies in the centres.

George North, who scored twice against the French, has dropped to the bench as he nurses a shoulder injury that has limited his involvement in Wales’ training in Nice this week. He is replaced by debutant Holmes.

Josh Adams and Liam Williams, who also started last week, complete the back three.

Gatland, who was criticised last year for the number of changes he made against Italy, has remained unfazed amid more concern about his team.

“I’ve never been a person who has worried about external influences,” said Gatland.

“People can say, write or imply whatever they like.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been put into a role to make what we think are the best decisions.”

“It’s a challenge this year, making changes. Guys have got to go out there and prove themselves.”

Italy

Italy have made just two changes from the side that lost at Murrayfield, with Tommaso Castello and Andrea Lovotti dropping out.

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Wing Edoardo Padovani starts in place of Castello, meaning Wasps back Michele Campagnaro switches to the centres.

Nicola Quaglio starts at prop ahead of Lovotti.

Captain Sergio Parisse will add to his record 66 appearances in the Championship; he overtook Brian O’Driscoll last week.

Following the defeat to Scotland, Parisse was keen to highlight his sides ability when they are possession, even if they do struggle defensively.

“If we had the possession we are dangerous; we can score tries,” Parisse said.  

“I think Scotland deserved the win; they dominated the game, had a lot of possession – more than us – so of course the last ten minutes is a good base to work on for the game next week against Wales.”

Meanwhile Padovani, who scored the second of Italy’s tries last week after coming on as a substitute, has called for his side to continue their discipline against Wales.

“Well, we will have to first improve the performance and keep the discipline under control, which went well with Scotland,” he said.

“Obviously you will need to play a lot more in their half of the field and express a greater volume of play, controlling more possession and above all, as mentioned, managing to be more precise in our performance: especially inside the 22 metres and in the decisive stages of the match.

“Then we need to show ourselves in contact and in the one-on-one, both in attack and defence.”

Verdict

It is hard to see how Italy will beat Wales on Saturday, despite the wholesale changes Warren Gatland has made. He made the same number of changes last year and Wales won comfortably 38-14.

He is one of the best coaches in the world and it would be foolish to doubt his decision making at this level. The players coming in, though inexperienced, have more than enough ability to overcome the Italians.

It will be interesting to see how the cope without influential captain Alun Wyn Jones, but Jonathan Davies is a capable stand in.

Italy will be hoping that star man Sergio Parisse will be able to rattle the cages of the two inexperienced Wales flankers, who will have to be at their best to keep the marauding number eight quiet.

If Parisse can secure Italy enough ball early on, they will hope they can recreate their flowing attacking rugby from the last 10 minutes in Scotland.

If the young Welsh side then begins to panic, then this game will be far from a foregone conclusion.

Despite this, Wales still have a strong bench, which will be beneficial should this game be closer than Gatland would prefer entering the second half.

Italy are always a stern test, regardless of their finishing position each year in the Six Nations, but the match in Rome may just be another one of their ‘nearly’ moments.

6 Nations

PREVIEW: Ireland Stick with Some Big Guns for Italy

Irish team named with a few new faces in the pack.

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Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ireland have confirmed their 23 to take on Italy and they are not resting a couple of big players for Sunday’s encounter in the Stadio Olimpico.

With the likes of Wales taking the opportunity against the Azzurri to rest many Ireland have decided to only change players in the pack with the back-line the same as two weeks ago.

Dave Kilcoyne and Sean Cronin come into the front row in place of Cian Healy and Rory Best respectively. Remarkably this will be Cronin’s 68th test but his first ever 6 Nations start. Completing the trio is the ever-reliable Tadhg Furlong.

Behind them Ultan Dillane slots joins Quinn Roux, after his brilliant performance off the bench against the Scots and his man of the match performance for Connacht last weekend.

In the back-row, Peter O’Mahony is captain with Best on the bench, with Sean O’Brien on the opposite side, while Jordi Murphy has a chance at eight as Jack Conan is suffering from abdominal tightness.

The backs are the same as two weeks ago against Scotland with Conor Murray at scrum-half and Johnny Sexton at fly-half, with Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell continuing their partnership in the centre.

Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls remain on the wings, with Rob Kearney finishing up the XV.

On the bench Ireland have some serious firepower with Jack McGrath, Iain Henderson and Andrew Conway returning to the squad. While Jack Carty could make his 6 Nations debut if he comes on.

The Italian’s who are missing star captain Sergio Parisse, announced their team earlier and Ireland will have to be wary of some key men in the line-up.

Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, and Simone Ferrari start in the front-row, with Federico Ruzza and Dean Budd behind them.

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The pack is made up by Jimmy Tuivaiti, Mazime Mbanda, and the hugely impressive Abraham Steyn, who will look to lead the team in the absence of Parisse.

Tito Tebaldi is at scrum-half and will be partnered by Tomasso Allan at fly-half, while Luca Morisi slots in beside the electric Michele Campagnaro in the centre.

Angelo Esposito and Edoardo Padovani are on the wings with Jayden Hayward making up the XV at full-back.

Irish-born Ian McKinley may have a part to play from the bench if he gets on.

It had been questioned whether there would be a vast amount of changes to the team that won last time out, but it seems as though there wasn’t much choice for Ireland.

Head coach Joe Schmidt confirmed that Joey Carbery has a slight hamstring problem and therefore is unable to take part in the game.

As mentioned above Conan is injured too, while Robbie Henshaw is still getting back up to top nick and Jordan Larmour injured his finger during the week and they are resting him.

Schmidt explained that even if Carbery was fit Sexton would have probably started ahead of him in Rome.

“I think we probably would have started Johnny anyway, to be honest. He’s had very little game time since the Munster game in December, whereas Joey has been really resilient this season and has had plenty of game time,” he said.

He also told the media how some players have earned their way into the team, while saying others deserved a rest.

“Some of it (the selection) is to offer an opportunity, to offer a reward to what we’ve seen in training so far like Dave Kilcoyne and Ultan Dillane – it gives us a little bit more confidence when Ultan goes back to Connacht last week and get the man of the match. Across the board those guys have earned their opportunity – and it gives us the opportunity to give some guys the weekend off,” he added.

The two sides last met in November when Ireland ran out 54-7 winners in Chicago.

Ireland are currently fourth in the table after the opening two rounds and will be looking to build on their win in Murrayfield last time out while Italy will be hoping to avoid a 20th straight defeat in the competition when they host the reigning champions.

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6 Nations

Schmidt rings the changes for Italy Clash

Lots of changes in the pack.

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

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Peter O’Mahony will captain the team – the first time he will lead Ireland in the Championship. He first captained Ireland on the summer tour to North America in 2013 and recently led the tour party in Australia.

O’Mahony is joined in the back row by Sean O’Brien and Jordi Murphy. Quinn Roux is partnered by Ultan Dillane in the second row with Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong making up the front-row. This will be Cronin’s first start in a Six Nations Championship.

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Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton start in the half backs with Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell filling the centre berths. Rob Kearney is joined in the backfield by Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls.

Carty is named in the replacements and alongside John Cooney and Andrew Conway. Niall Scannell, Jack McGrath and John Ryan are the front row cover with Iain Henderson and Josh van der Flier also named.

Schmidt confirmed at the announcement that Carberry, Conan and Larmour are currently injured, Robbie Henshaw was close to being in contention but has not ‘had enough running’.

Connor O’Shea has named his team:

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6 Nations

Wales v England – The Key Battles

Six Nations Round 3: Wales vs England

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Two sides looking to maintain their unbeaten starts to the 2019 Six Nations will meet at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

Eddie Jones’ England have already beaten majority favourites Ireland in their own back yard in round one, and swept aside France two weeks ago at Twickenham.

Meanwhile Wales, led by Warren Gatland, produced a remarkable comeback to scrape past the French in Paris, and stumbled to victory over Italy with a much-changed side.

With both sides’ prospects of a Grand Slam on the line, this historic rivalry looks set to be reignited once again.

Ahead of this monumental clash, we’ve taken a look at some of the key battles where this game could be won and lost.

Rob Evans vs Ben Moon

With Mako Vunipola injured, Ben Moon is one of two enforced changes for England. He will take on the returning Rob Evans at loosehead, who was seemingly ‘rested’ for Wales’ game against Italy.

Moon has played just 37 minutes so far this campaign; during the emphatic victory over France. The Exeter Chiefs man only made his England debut during the autumn internationals, and has just 5 caps to his name.

In contrast, Evans made his first appearance for Wales four years ago, and has made 32 appearances for his national side.

With that being said, it is clear that the Welshman has experience on his side in this matchup. He will have also benefited from missing the Italy game, and be in peak condition for Saturday.

Moon was a surprise call-up to the England squad for some, and he will have to assert his dominance in the early stages in Cardiff if he wants to prove his doubters wrong.

Evans may be superior in the scrum, but if Moon can replicate his industrious, hard-working performances he has put in for Exeter this season, he may come out on top in terms of metres and tackles made across the course of the game.

Gareth Anscombe vs Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell’s displays in the first two games of this competition have further cemented his status as one of the world’s best fly-halves.

With no disrespect to Gareth Anscombe, who is a tremendously intelligent number ten, it would take a serious performance from Welshman to outshine Eddie Jones’ golden boy.

Farrell’s stats so far dwarf those of his counterpart – he has already racked up 29 points compared to Anscombe’s 6, he has a higher goal-kicking accuracy (71% compared to 60%), and he has a higher average gain (27.5m compared to 18m).

It is not just Farrell’s attacking prowess that makes him such a daunting opponent; his defensive play has improved massively over the last few seasons. He has already made 22 tackles across the first two rounds.

Anscombe has however shown what positive impact he can have on this Wales team. Prior to his introduction against Italy, Wales were lacklustre in attack and looked pedestrian at times. With Anscombe’s kicking from hand, the Welsh backs looked far more dangerous and dynamic.

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Gatland’s decision to select Anscombe ahead of Dan Biggar for such a crucial game highlights his trust in the 27-year-old.

If Anscombe is to come out on top in this battle though, he will primarily have to be more clinical from the tee. A 60% kick success rate against this England side will not go unpunished.

George North vs Jonny May

Jonny May is yet another England player who seems to be hitting their best form in this year’s Six Nations. He currently leads the way in the try-scoring charts with four, and was electric in England’s demolition of France.

In comparison, George North is beginning to look back to his rampaging best after a difficult period with injuries. His brace against France in round one demonstrated his devastating pace, power and finishing ability.

He was one of the victims of Warren Gatland’s many changes for the game against Italy, so the game on Saturday will be his first chance to add to his tally.

North’s defensive ability will also be under scrutiny against England, should Jones’ side be as dominant as they have in the first two games. His sheer physical presence may offer a different challenge for England’s back three who have been so fluid so far this competition.

Although May and North may not be playing directly opposite each other on the pitch, their roles as their respective team’s talisman makes this a key battle.

It may be the case that the winger that is more clinical when they get the chance, and whoever scores more points on Saturday, is on the winning side.

Gareth Davies vs Ben Youngs

Ben Youngs seems to have finally established himself as Eddie Jones’ first-choice scrum-half, amid stiff competition in the position during the head coaches reign.

The Leicester Tigers man has started both games in the Six Nations, and has missed just 11 minutes across the two rounds.

In comparison, Gareth Davies is Warren Gatland’s third different starting number nine. Davies has played just 46 minutes across Wales’ first two games, with Tomos Williams and Aled Davies favoured ahead of the Scarlets man.

Despite this, Davies has managed to gain more metres than Youngs so far in the competition – The Welshman has made 22m, compared to the Englishman’s 17m.

Youngs however, has been much more secure in possession. Davies has twice as many handling errors (4) than Youngs (2), in a much shorter space of time.

This highlights a new Ben Youngs that Eddie Jones has moulded; he has cut out silly mistakes from his game, albeit at the expense of some the poaching he was known for in his younger years.

His change in style may have negatively impacted his individual stats, but his overall contribution to the team has been massively positive.

Davies will try to be as much of a nuisance to the England back-row as he can in Cardiff, and if he is able to retain possession, his small gains may prove to be vital to any Wales success.

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