Points mean prizes for Principality
So it all comes down to ‘Super Saturday’ with three sides still in contention for the title – and Warren Gatland’s gladiators will stride into Rome’s Stadio Olimpico full of confidence after following up victory in Paris by derailing Ireland’s Grand Slam ambitions last weekend.
Crucially, Wales have been in this situation before; rallying after an opening round defeat to snatch the championship on the final day in 2013.
They go into this one with an inferior points difference of 25 behind table-toppers England, knowing they will need to match or better their biggest ever victory against the Italians (38-8 in 2005) if they are to stand any chance of overtaking their rivals.
Despite having scored just five tries to date, all is not lost. Even a poor France team in disarray put 29 unanswered points on the board in Rome last weekend, with that defeat last Sunday leaving the beleaguered hosts facing a six day turnaround.
Add in the fact that the Italians lost 52-11 to England in similar situation on the final day in Rome last year, and it’s not beyond realm of possibilities that Wales could rack up 50 points plus here.
Italy have scored a paltry three points in their two home games to date this season and could struggle to add to that with both their first and second choice out-halves missing this one.
The one area the hosts may have an advantage is the scrum, a traditional strong point for the Azzurri anyway, with Wales suffering something of a front row crisis. Indeed Wales’ only two changes see Rob Evans come in at loosehead for his first Test start, while Aaron Jarvis replaces the injured Samson Lee at tighthead.
Elsewhere, Wales will look to dominate. Italy have the worst lineout record in this year’s championship and, with Alun Wyn Jones the standout performer in this area across the championship, expect Wales to use this as a key attacking platform to launch their powerful back-line runners.
Wales have proved strong tournament finishers over the last two seasons, recording a 51-3 victory against Scotland in their final game last year and quashing England’s Grand Slam ambitions 30-3 in 2013.
This year has been unique in that it is the first Six Nations championship where the top of the table team has changed after every round so far. Wales will look to continue that sequence come Saturday evening. To do so, they must drastically improve their points difference and are available at 3/1 to win by 31-40 points, while Wales to win by 41-50 points looks well priced at 10/1.
The match kicks off at 12.30pm on Saturday, March 21st at Stadio Olimpico, Rome.