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Six Nations | Group Stage
Mar 16, 2024 at 2.15pm UK
Dee (64'), Rowlands (79'), Grady (80')
Ioane (20'), Pani (46')

Preview: Wales vs. Italy - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Six Nations clash between Wales and Italy, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

After a set of results that blew the Championship wide open last weekend, the 2024 Six Nations final round kicks off with the battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Cardiff, where Wales will play host to Italy on Saturday.

Following a historic weekend, Italy are on the verge of avoiding the Six Nations booby prize after eight consecutive years of ending bottom, while Wales are just 80 minutes away from receiving the unwanted award for the first time in two decades.

Match preview

Wales' Dan Biggar celebrates scoring their first try on October 14, 2023© Reuters

Last weekend, the Dragons put on a strong performance in an exhilarating first half at this venue before being outmatched in the second period by France, who went on to claim the victory by a 21-point margin (45-24).

That result followed a 31-7 drubbing at the hands of Ireland in round three and a total collapse in the second half against England in round two, where they took a 14-5 lead into the break but failed to score a single point in the second half, allowing their opponents to come back to edge the match 16-14.

Warren Gatland's side's best performance in this competition feels like a long time ago, back in round one when they came up just one point short of Scotland. Still, with no wins on the board, Wales are now staring down the possibility of registering their first winless Six Nations campaign since 2003.

However, while the odds may be stacked against them, Wales' hopes of avoiding a last-placed finish are by no means unachievable, needing to beat the Italians by a margin of at least 12 points while also ensuring that the Azzurri are unable to pick up a bonus point.

In the 2023 edition of this competition, the Dragons' only victory came against this opponent in a 29-17 win in Rome, but when these two met in Cardiff in 2022, it was Italy who claimed the victory by the slenderest of margins (27-26).

Italy's Stephen Varney celebrates scoring their third try on March 9, 2024© Reuters

Meanwhile, the Italian team, under the guidance of new head coach Gonzalo Quesada, have shown remarkable progress this year, bouncing back impressively from their World Cup disappointment in France last autumn.

In their most recent match, the Azzurri stunned Scotland 31-29 at the Stadio Olimpico, securing their first home Six Nations victory in 11 years and only their second in the competition since 2015.

Before that, Italy were extremely unfortunate to miss out on what would have been a huge upset win over France in round three when Paolo Garbisi's last-minute penalty struck the post with the scores tied at 13-13.

Still, with those results, the Italians have now avoided defeat in back-to-back Six Nations matches for the first time since 2011, which will undoubtedly give them added confidence heading into this crunch match in Cardiff.

Italy's best-ever finish in this competition was fourth, which they managed in the 2007 and 2013 editions, but if they win this match and other results go in their favour, there is still a chance that they could claim third place in this year's Championship.

Wales Six Nations form:

  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L

Wales form (all competitions):

  • W
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L

Italy Six Nations form:

  • L
  • L
  • D
  • W

Italy form (all competitions):

  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • D
  • W

Team News

Wales' George North pictured in March 2023© Reuters

The stage is set for an emotional final-week showdown for George North, who will return to the starting lineup and will be playing his final match for Wales this weekend, having announced his retirement at the age of 31.

There are four other changes to the side that lost to France last week, including the return of Nick Tompkins, who will make up the midfield pairing with North in his final match.

In other adjustments, Dillon Lewis is selected at tighthead, Elliot Dee will play at hooker, and Will Rowlands moves to the bench. Captain Dafydd Jenkins assumes the blindside position, enabling Alex Mann to reclaim the number six spot.

In the opposite camp, Italy have suffered a significant setback before their Six Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff, with star full-back Ange Capuozzo confirmed to be sidelined due to injury.

As a result, Zebre's Lorenzo Pani will step in as the starting full-back against Wales, while Monty Ioane will occupy the left wing, and Louis Lynagh maintains his spot on the right wing after making a scoring debut last week.

Tommaso Menoncello and Juan Ignacio Brex will continue their partnership in the centre positions, while scrum-half Stephen Varney rejoins the starting 15 in place of Martin Page-Relo, who drops to the bench.

Wales starting lineup: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Josh Adams, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Costelow. 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Alex Mann, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Dafydd Jenkins (c), 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Gareth Thomas

Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Harri O'Connor, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Mackenzie Martin, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Mason Grady

Italy starting lineup: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti

Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Ross Vintcent, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Martin Page-Relo, 23 Leonardo Marin

SM words green background

We say: Wales 24-20 Italy

While neither of these sides are playing for the title, this could easily end up being the pick of the matches this weekend. Wales have shown glimpses in this competition, but Italy will not go down without a fight. The home advantage should be enough for Wales to win the game but we do not think it will be by a big enough margin to prevent them from finishing bottom.

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