STAND-In coach Rob Howley has identified the twin targets of discipline and momentum as Wales look to remain in RBS Six Nations title contention against Italy on Saturday.
The reigning champions head to Rome for the vital match but are unlikely to face the hosts’ mercurial captain Sergio Parisse.
The Stade Francais star faces a disciplinary hearing in Paris today after being sent off for allegedly insulting referee Laurent Cardona in a league game against Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Parisse has denied any wrongdoing, but an anticipated minimum ban of six weeks would rule him out of Italy’s remaining games against Wales, England and Ireland.
Howley, though, has no doubt the Azzurri – conquerors of Wales in 2003 and 2007 – will once again provide testing opposition. “It is one of the toughest places to go in Europe,” said Howley, who confirmed lock Alun-Wyn Jones and flanker Sam Warburton as changes on the bench following Wales’ 16-6 victory over France in Paris.
“They have got a great set-piece, and it is important we stop them at source.
“We’ve always had a tough outing against Italy, home or away. They are very difficult to break down, they are very well organised, they’ve got some world-class players and they are coached very well. It is a good challenge for us. On the back of winning in France, we realise that one win isn’t good enough. It is about some momentum, and we need to go out there and beat Italy. The key for the weekend is discipline. It is the one thing we will talk about between now and then.”
Warburton, Wales’ 2011 World Cup captain who led them to Six Nations title and Grand Slam glory last season, missed the Stade de France encounter because of a shoulder injury. His fellow back-row forward Ryan Jones took over as skipper, with Justin Tipuric wearing the No 7 shirt for a game that saw Wales claim their first victory in Paris since 2005.
Howley gave his Paris heroes a resounding vote of confidence by naming an unchanged team seven days ago and Warburton will be joined on the bench by Ospreys forward Jones, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Millennium Stadium defeat to Argentina three months ago and subsequently underwent surgery.
Cardiff Blues lock Lou Reed and Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler drop out of the match-day 23 on duty against France, with Howley’s bench contingent boasting a total of 264 caps.
Wales team: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Tipuric (Ospreys). Subs: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Craig Mitchell (Exeter) Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff), James Hook (Perpignan), Scott Williams (Scarlets).