Wales odds on to beat the Azzurri - big match preview
WINNING in Rome today would represent a milestone and match an achievement Wales haven’t equalled since the halcyon days of the seventies.
Not only would victory keep them very much in the Six Nations title race, but it would represent the first time Wales have won four away games in a row in the championship for more than 30 years.
Between 1977 and 1979, Wales won twice at Murrayfield and once each at Twickenham and Dublin on their way to a Grand Slam and two Triple Crowns triumphs.
And they should pull it off really. Even with their inspirational captain Ser-gio Parisse available, Wales would have been strongly tipped to beat Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.
But since the number eight was banned for the rest of the tournament on Wednesday, the visitors are now smoking hot favourites to win this afternoon.
The bookies are so convinced Ryan Jones’ men are going to win that they are odds on at 1/4.
Italy’s loss in Parisse’s extreme foolishness, getting sent off for verbally abusing a referee while playing for his club Stade Français in the Top 14 last weekend, is Wales’ massive gain.
But they will still have to be on the money because hubris and complacency have been Wales’ enemies in the past.
History can teach them some important lessons.
They have gone to Rome twice before expecting to win in the Six Nations, only to leave the Eternal City with their tails firmly between their legs after two horrible defeats in 2003 and 2007.
And apart from the runaway 38-8 success they recorded at the Stadio Flaminio during the 2005 Grand Slam year, Wales have been quite unconvincing in their Six Nations victories away in Rome.
Narrow winning margins were recorded in 2001 (33-23), 2009 (20-15) and 2011 (24-16).
Wales should win comfortably this afternoon, their ugly, but significant and courageous, 16-6 victory over France in Paris a fortnight ago likely to have done them the world of good.
Italy promised much when they shocked the French 23-18 in Rome during the tournament’s opening weekend when they were simply sublime, playing with power, passion and panache to emerge as deserved winners.
But they failed abysmally to back it up six days later against Scotland in Edinburgh.
They were mashed in Murrayfield 34-10 in a performance that was as bad as the week before’s was good and it has surely seriously dented their confidence.
Still, Italy are a different prospect at home and should have at least drawn with Australia in the autumn, going down to an agonizing 22-19 defeat and just missing out on a big scalp that would have hung nicely from the mantelpiece alongside their others.
Scotland fell in Rome again last season, Ireland only scrapping through there in 2011 by the skin of their teeth.
It will be tough for Wales up front today but they have the definite edge behind and will look to exploit an Italian defence given the complete run-around by the Scots, hardly world-beaters.
Newport Gwent Dragons lock Andrew Coombs, his regional teammate, number eight Toby Faletau, lock Ian Evans and full back Leigh Halfpenny aside, no one else in the current Wales starting XV has really set the world alight so far in this tournament.
With the huge incentive of a place on a Lions tour to play for this season, this could be the match that sees a number of players finally begin to emerge from the shadows.
Jamie Roberts has spoken about how the shackles seem to be off after the side broke their miserable eight-match winless run at the Stade de France.
Wales fans will no doubt hope the powerhouse centre is as good as his word and that he can recapture the form that saw him emerge as the Lions’ player of the series during their narrow 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in 2009.
There are expectations too that other senior players like Mike Phillips, who also shone on that tour against the Springboks, can also lift them so that they can go on and record a handsome victory that would set them up perfectly for another tough away assignment against Scot-land on March 9.