Rome, Italy – Six Nations champions Wales expect a tight match against Italy here Saturday despite the hosts missing influential captain Sergio Parisse for the rest of the tournament.
Parisse is set to miss Italy's remaining three games after being handed a 30-day ban for insulting the referee last week while playing for club side Stade Francais.
The big number 8 is one of the driving forces in an Italy side which is steadily improving, and the numbers speak for themselves:
in the last 10 years Italy have won only one Six Nations match without Parisse, against Scotland in 2010.
“They have only won game without him, which tells you all you need to know,” said Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde. “He is a big player for them both in defence and attack. It will be interesting to see how Italy cope.
“That said, they have still got a big No 8 in Manoa Vosawai. He's going to be pose a different type of threat at the scrum and line-out.”
Italy followed their tournament-opening 23-18 win over France at the Olympic Stadium earlier this month with a 34-10 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.
Wales, who fell 22-30 to Ireland in Cardiff, bounced back to stun France 16-6 in Paris last time out.
But on Saturday, Wales' fellow assistant coach Neil Jenkins expects a “very hard” game.
“All our games in Rome have been decided by very tight margins and I don't see this one being any different,” said Jenkins, who played against the Azzurri at the Olympic Stadium in 1996.
“They (Italy) had a fantastic victory here against France three weeks ago and we're expecting a very hard game.”
Italy coach Jacques Brunel set out on this campaign to assure at least two wins for his side.
And Jenkins believes Italy have improved enormously since he was part of the team that “scraped” a win over Italy in 1996.
“We have always found it very tough against Italy. They have certainly developed as a team over recent years, and they play a pretty good offloading game now, too.
“The second try they scored against France, from a turnover on their own line and finished by (Martin) Castrogiovanni, was especially good. It was a fantastic team try.”
With this year's tournament still wide open after a few surprise results in recent weeks, Wales are still in contention to defend the title they won last year.
Rain is expected on Saturday, but Jenkins is hoping the Welsh can make light of distractions and build on their superb win over France in their last outing in Paris.
“We'll have to wait and see what the weather brings but we'll try to bring our own style,” he said.
“We certainly like to play with ball in hand, but we also like to play in the right areas of the pitch, we hope that will be the case tomorrow.
“We trained pretty well this morning. We just hope the momentum will build from Paris.” – Sapa-AFP