Italy v Wales: Everything you need to know

Updated: 

Rob Howley's experienced Wales XV begin the 2017 Six Nations at perennial underdogs Italy, who picked up the wooden spoon last year.

The interim head coach - standing in as Warren Gatland focuses on his British and Irish Lions preparations - selected seven uncapped players in his original squad, none of whom made it into the matchday 23 for Sunday's meeting in Rome.

Sam Warburton has been stood down as captain to allow him to focus on his own performances, with lock Alun Wyn Jones taking over the leadership of a side that finished second in 2016.

Italy, hoping for their first win over Wales since 2007, continue to be guided by talismanic number eight Sergio Parisse, who played every minute of last year's campaign.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

Italy: 2
Wales: 21
Draw: 1

 

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?

Italy will hope most people have forgotten. 

In the final round, Wales ran in nine tries en route to a 67-14 demolition of the Azzurri - their biggest points total in a championship game in Cardiff.

The record victory secured Wales' place as runners-up behind grand-slam champions England. Italy will be seeking revenge on Sunday.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Sergio Parisse (Italy)
The number eight has embodied his team's never-say-die attitude since his debut 15 years ago. Not just a colossus at set-pieces and at the breakdown, he is closing in on 3,000 metres gained - more than anyone else in the history of the competition.

Liam Williams (Wales)
The versatile back has been selected on the wing by Howley, despite pressure from some quarters to start him at full-back instead of Leigh Halfpenny. Legendary back Gareth Thomas was among those calling for Williams to be chosen at 15, but Howley and Wales will hope he can use his devastating attacking prowess from out wide.

 

THE LINE-UPS

Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Ornel Gega, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Fuser, George Biagi, Abraham Steyn, Maxime Mbanda, Sergio Parisse (captain).

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Nicky Smith, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

 

COACH COMMENTS

Conor O'Shea (Italy): "We know that the last two games against them have been very difficult for us, but we focus on ourselves, on the work to be done. We have to impose our game plan on them, and at the end of the 80 minutes we will see."

Rob Howley (Wales):"It took a long time to select the team. We have gone with a lot of experience away from home against what will be a very competitive Italy side, players who have a success record in the Six Nations of more than 70 per cent. It is important that we start well, hence the selection."

 

OPTA STATS

- Italy have only won three of 17 opening-day fixtures in their Six Nations history, however one of those victories did come against Wales (2003, also against Scotland in 2000 and France in 2013).

-  Wales successfully kicked 85 per cent of their attempts at goal in 2016, the best rate of any Tier One team; Italy (80 per cent) were one of four teams, including Wales, to have a success rate of 80 per cent or better from the tee.

- Justin Tipuric has made 175 tackles since he last missed one for club or country; he's made 40 for Wales and 135 for the Ospreys since missing a tackle on Finn Russell during last year's tournament.

- Wales failed to win any of their six away games in 2016, they were whitewashed 3-0 on their tour to New Zealand, lost twice at Twickenham against England and drew with Ireland on the opening day of last year's Six Nations.