Wales vs. Italy: 6 Players with a Point to Prove in Six Nations Clash
Wales are red-hot favourites to spank Italy on Saturday, but there are plenty of sub-plots to the Six Nations opener to make it an intriguing encounter.
With a tough autumn programme leaving the champions without a major scalp, they need to get back to winning ways, while Italy, after two wins last season, are suffering a string of injuries.
Here are six players who can make their mark for different reasons.
1. Scott Williams
Williams has his chance to impress in the Six Nations and to keep his place should Jonathan Davies return to fitness later in the competition. Davies is being mooted to come back when Wales face Ireland in week two, so Williams’ window of opportunity is short.
Williams has looked in good form for the Scarlets this season and played well in the autumn for Wales when he was called upon.
A standout opening-day showing against an Italian side low on confidence will give his chances of keeping the jersey a timely boost.
At the back of his mind, Williams is also aware he has not been offered a new deal by the Scarlets as yet There is no better shop window in which to show your wares to potential suitors than the Six Nations.
2. Mirco Bergamasco
After a broken kneecap and being dumped by Racing Metro, Bergamasco’s career at the top level seemed to be petering out.
But having joined Rovigo in his homeland, he has played himself back into the squad.
And how they need his experience. With Andrea Masi and Gonzalo Canale both out of the tournament through injury, Bergamasco brings an old head to the side upon which they will depend heavily.
3. Adam Jones
Jones has arguably been the world’s best tight head prop over the last few seasons.
In his column for the Guardian, Worcester Warriors coach Dean Ryan picks him out as a player who struggled with the new scrum engagement laws at the start of this season but also says the Welsh pack was the best front eight in last year’s tournament.
If they are to retain that accolade, much will depend on Jones’ level of dominance, particularly against an Italian side who pride themselves on their scrum. He has not been in good form for the Ospreys of late, so he needs to rediscover his A-game.
If Jones can destroy Italy at the coal face, he will extinguish any doubts that he has been neutered by the change in engagement rules and could open the door to a handsome Welsh win.
4. Sergio Parisse
Italy need their talisman more than ever this season.
He was in supreme form in the opening two games of last year’s championship before copping a suspension that ruled him out of the rest of the competition and Italy suffered accordingly.
This campaign a raft of injuries to experienced players will see an even heavier workload than usual fall on the captain’s shoulders.
Parisse needs to show he can pull a makeshift side together and make them competitive.
5. Leigh Halfpenny
The worst-kept secret in rugby was finally confirmed last week when Leigh Halfpenny announced he had signed for Toulon.
While it would be nothing short of rugby hari-kari for Warren Gatland to start dropping players based outside the principality, Halfpenny has the perfect chance to stuff the threat from WRU supremo Roger Lewis where the sun doesn’t shine with a man-of-the-match display this weekend.
6. Sam Warburton
As winning Lions captain and with two consecutive Six Nations championships on his CV, what has Sam Warburton got to prove to anyone?
The answer this season is that he must prove he can get back to his best.
Warburton has struggled for full fitness since the injury he sustained in the second Test of the Lions tour, re-injuring himself in November against Australia.
And despite Dan Lydiate’s dash to his wife as she gave birth this week, Warburton remains on the bench with the Racing Metro man keeping the starting spot.
When Warburton does get his chance, he will need to make an impact.