Italy vs. Wales: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2015 Six Nations Clash

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2015

Italy vs. Wales: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2015 Six Nations Clash

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    Wales will be first to show their hand in Saturday's three-way fight for the 2015 Six Nations title.

    Warren Gatland's men kick off at 12:30 p.m. GMT in Rome as they bid to claim the crown that they surrendered a year ago.

    Wales currently sit third on points difference behind England and Ireland, so they will be looking to rack up a big score against the Azzurri.

    Injuries have taken their toll on some key positions for the 2011 World Cup's fourth-placed team, while Italy have looked well short of their best in this championship.

    Here are the key battles for this clash.

1. Front Row

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    Wales have been stripped of injured first-choice props Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee, and the team cannot call upon the experience of Adam Jones after the Test Lion's retirement.

    So it falls to Rob Evans and Aaron Jarvis to hold up the Welsh scrum against Italy's experienced campaigners, likely to include Martin Castrogiovanni.

    After Lee's early departure last week against Ireland, the Welsh scrum struggled badly and was lucky not to give away more penalties.

    If Italy dish out more treatment like that against relatively callow opponents, Wales will struggle for a scrum platform from which to attack, and a different referee might well punish them.

2. Parisse vs. Faletau

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    Italy's captain and talisman Sergio Parisse may not be at 100 per cent if he takes the field on Saturday.

    The Stade Francais man suffered a foot injury against France but has claimed that he could be fit for the last game, per Sky Sports.

    If he is fit, he will need all of his skills and strength to combat Taulupe Faletau.

    The Welsh No. 8 put in a massive shift both defensively and from a ball-carrying perspective against Ireland, and if the Welsh scrum does go into reverse, he will be crucial in tidying up at the back and establishing forward momentum.

    Parisse will be sniffing the chance to stifle the Tongan-born back-rower before he can get going, and in doing so, he could thwart one of Wales' main yard-makers.

3. Fly-Half

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    Italy have not been enjoying a vintage period for No. 10s in recent years.

    Kelly Haimona began the championship in the shirt but was absent for Italy's 29-0 drubbing by France, a contest for which he was replaced by Tommy Allan

    Neither man's form has suggested that either player can get this Italian back line purring or kick particularly well for field position.

    Whichever man lines up to start will be facing Mr Consistent in Dan Biggar. The Ospreys pivot has been brave as well as brilliant during the championship.

    Much will rest on his option-taking as to whether Wales can rack up the kind of points total that will bring them into contention for the title, and it will be up to whoever occupies the Italian fly-half berth to stop him.

4. McLean vs. Halfpenny

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    Leigh Halfpenny has barely put a foot wrong during the tournament so far, kicking almost all his goals and performing solidly in defence.

    Italy's Luke McLean has started all but the first of this year's Six Nations fixtures and has not had too many opportunities to make an impact.

    With Italy unlikely to look to run from deep against a rock-solid Welsh defence, the ball will probably go skyward for Halfpenny to field.

    It will be up to McLean to chase the Toulon man down and stop him from weaving his way back upfield. Fail in that task, however, and the Lions hero could have a spectacular afternoon.

5. Luca Morisi vs. Jonathan Davies

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    England got a taste of the attacking talents of Italian outside centre Luca Morisi at Twickenham when he scored twice against them.

    So Jonathan Davies will not need reminding that the Azzurri speedster can cause him trouble if he gets caught flat-footed in defence.

    Morisi will be looking for the space outside his opposite man, especially if the ball is sent wide from turnover ball.

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