The tournament's bottom two kick off Super Saturday in Cardiff. Defending champions Wales will expect to finish on a high note on a red-letter day for two of their greats
Six Nations Wales v Italy preview
Super Saturday, the day when all three Guinness Six Nations fixtures are played one after another, is one of the highlights of the sporting year, let alone just the rugby calendar.
But a year after Wales went for a Grand Slam in Paris in the final match, there is an inevitable sense of anticlimax as the defending champions kick off Super Saturday against Italy with little at stake (2.15pm). Their aim will be to post a bonus-point win to climb to third and then sit back to see if Scotland and/or England can dislodge them.
It’s been a disappointing championship for Wales and yet they gave France, the likely champions, their most difficult match. Alun Wyn Jones comes back into the mix for this finale, his 150th Wales cap coming on the same day that Dan Biggar wins his 100th. Can you see a team with those two in it losing to Italy? Exactly. It’s just not going to happen.
Italy will yearn for something to cling to. They were very good at times against Scotland but still finished empty-handed. They’re conceding 40 points a game in this championship compared to 48 last year, so there is progress. They would like a try or two as well – their 2022 haul of four is their joint fewest apart from 2004 and 2009, when they scored just two.
They are unleashing young talent – Ange Capuozzo gets his first start here – but forever playing catch-up. Michele Lamaro, the 23-year-old son of an Olympic sailor, has been immense. The tournament’s leading tackler will have ample opportunity to add to his tally at the Principality Stadium. Expect a handsome Welsh win to launch Super Saturday before the real business – the destination of the title – is decided in Dublin and Paris.
What’s the big team news?
Just like last year, Wales announced their squad two days earlier than required and two of their greats grab the headlines. Lock Alun Wyn Jones returns from injury – typically ahead of schedule – for his 150th Wales cap. And fly-half Biggar, who took the captain’s armband off Jones and retains it, becomes the seventh Welshman to notch 100 caps for his country.
Jones, 36, hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand at the end of October. He was expected to miss the whole championship but, as he showed last year with the Lions, he seems to have superpowers when it comes to recovery. Some feel that Will Rowlands has been a little hard done by losing his place.
There are changes aplenty. Dewi Lake, making his first start at hooker, and tighthead Dillon Lewis come into the starting XV for Ryan Elias and Tomas Francis respectively.
Gareth Davies, a replacement in Dublin in round one, gets a run at scrum-half ahead of Kieran Hardy, who took a knock during his 70 minutes against France last week. The Scarlet had replaced Tomos Williams following the latter’s early head knock.
Uilisi Halaholo is selected for the first time this year, replacing Jonathan Davies. Nick Tompkins, one of Wales’ best players in the championship, is on the bench following his recent concussion playing for Saracens.
Related: Nick Tompkins’s lightbulb moment
Liam Williams gives way to Johnny McNicholl at full-back, who returns to the line-up after an appearance on the wing against Ireland in round one. Louis Rees-Zammit also starts following an unaccustomed replacement role last week.
Seb Davies, 6ft 6in and nearly 19st, gets the opportunity to chance to go again in the back row alongside Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau. It was a unit that excelled against the French without earning the result they deserved. Navidi was named Man of the Match in the corresponding fixture last year, making 18 tackles and seven carries.
On the bench, Bradley Roberts is in line for his Six Nations debut. There is plenty of experience elsewhere in a five-three split.
Italy give a first start to Capuozzo at full-back after the youngster’s two-try cameo off the bench against Scotland. Edoardo Padavani shifts to right-wing in place of Pierre Bruno, whose super offload last weekend helped create Italy’s first try.
The 14 shirt has been something of a curse this year for Italy, with Padovani the fourth different player to wear it in five matches.
The only other change to the starting XV sees Newcastle’s Marco Fuser come in at second-row for Niccolò Cannone.
There’s a 6-2 split among the replacements with Cherif Traorè returning. The loosehead prop, who featured against England, missed last year’s clash with Wales because of a broken arm. Back-row Braam Steyn will win his 50th cap if summoned from off the bench.
What have the two coaches said?
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac: “We’ve made a few changes this week. With one game to go there are some players we need to see out there.
“We’ve selected a side which we think can get the job done. Clearly that’s what we’re here for. There’s an opportunity to move up that table, so we think this is an exciting team and one we’re looking forward to seeing out there.
“Italy are improving, they’ve had some bad luck here and there and with a new coach transitioning we know it takes a bit of time. But we know they’ve got some very good rugby players and as you saw against Scotland they troubled them in that second half and for long periods of the first. So we’re going to have to be on our game.
“We had a good result against Scotland, gave the fans something to cheer about and came very close against an in-form France. We’re obviously disappointed we couldn’t get across the line for our fans there. We hope we can do that this weekend and finish on a high.”
On Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones: “Dan and Al are huge players for Wales and have been for many years now. Al has been with us a few weeks and he’s trained very well, ticked all the boxes. To be playing 150 Test matches, something no one else on the planet has ever done, shows he’s a special person.
“We’ve said with other players reaching 100 appearances what an achievement that is and for Dan I know he’s been looking forward to this moment for a long time. For him to achieve it with Al, it’s fitting for those two to share the day. They’ve played a lot of rugby together and have a healthy respect for each other. They’ve given so much for the game in Wales.”
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley: “We are playing in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world. Wales has regained some important players and they will want to react.
“We want to end the tournament in the best possible way, backing up the rugby we played in several parts of the match against Scotland.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Italy are hoping to end a 36-match losing run in the championship – the worst sequence in championship history. There have been two World Cups played since their last Six Nations victory, against Scotland in February 2015
- Their captain Michele Lamaro has made 69 tackles – the most in this year’s tournament. His tally is 19 higher than the next best on the list, compatriot Niccolò Cannone and France’s Anthony Jelonch
- Italy (652) and Wales (645) have made the most tackles so far – and also missed the most tackles (Italy 107, Wales 78)
- An 18-18 draw in 2006 is the only Welsh blemish in their home record against Italy in the Six Nations. They won their other ten such matches by an average of 30 points
- Italy wing Monty Ioane has made seven offloads – more than any other player this year. He also leads the way in defenders beaten (14) and has carried for 324 metres – the fourth-highest figure
- The two countries average 7.3 entries into the opposition 22 per game – only Scotland have recorded fewer
- Wales (1.6) and Italy (0.9) also have the lowest points return per 22 entry
- Italy’s Federico Ruzza tops the championship’s individual lineout stats, with 24 wins
- Wales come into this match on the back of a home defeat – and they haven’t lost consecutive home games in the championship for 15 years
- Fly-halves Paolo Garbisi (44) and Dan Biggar (42) have kicked the ball more than anyone else this year in open play
- Wales have retained possession from ten of Biggar’s kicks. That’s twice as many as the next-best player in the ranking, team-mate Liam Williams
- The Azzurri failed to score on their last visit to Cardiff, losing 42-0 as Josh Adams scored a hat-trick. Watch highlights of that game here
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Wales v Italy, Saturday 19 March at Principality Stadium
The match kicks off at 2.15pm in Cardiff and will be broadcast live on BBC and S4C. There will be radio commentary on BBC Sports Extra simulcast.
Andrew Brace, Cardiff-born but representing the Irish union, is the match referee. Matt Carley, who took charge of the Wales-France game last week, is assistant referee along with France’s Tual Trainini. Joy Neville (IRFU) is the TMO.
WALES: Johnny McNicholl; Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (capt), Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Nick Tompkins.
ITALY: Ange Capuozzo; Edoardo Padavani, Ignacio Brex, Leonardo Marin, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Callum Braley; Danilo Fischetti, Giocomo Nicotera, Pietro Ceccarelli, Marco Fuser, Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli, Michele Lamaro (capt), Toa Halafini.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traorè, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Niccolò Cannone, 21 Braam Steyn, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Marco Zanon.