WALES go into Saturday with a fighting chance of lifting their third Six Nations title in four years. After some spellbindingly stubborn defence against Ireland, and some magic from centre Scott Williams, Cymru have clawed their way back into a championship which seemed to have evaded them after the England loss.
Some staunch tackling has elevated Wales to a position where they are now level pegging with Ireland and England – but with an inferior points difference.
Gatland’s men have a points difference which is 25 points fewer than England’s, and 21 points fewer than Ireland’s.
If all goes well against Italy in Rome, which it should, Wales will be hoping Vern Cotter’s side can overcome Ireland, and, more prominently, Les Blues can defeat England in a show-stopping finale at Twickenham.
With Wales needing to outscore both Ireland and France by heavy margins, the task they face is daunting. But, with their performances so far, do Cymru realistically stand a chance of lifting the Six Nations once again?
With Italy missing their star man, No8 Sergio Parisse, Wales will be hoping they can steamroll a side who they have beaten 18 times in 21 attempts. Last time out in Rome, Wales stormed to a 26-9 victory over the Italians, thanks to tries from Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert.
While the latter has been ousted by the impressive Liam Williams, the former will be key to Wales’s attack come Saturday. Davies has beaten more defenders than any other Welsh player this year, evading nine in one-on-one situations.
His partnership with fellow Lions’ star Jamie Roberts has come under criticism of late, with the impressive Scott Williams unlucky to miss out, but the pair have amassed 35 points in 55 Six Nations games. With their collective experience and muscular running, the pair will be crucial against Italy. They will, however, have their work cut out against their opposing centres. Andrea Masi is a stalwart at 12, while the pacey Luca Morisi is the Azzuri’s top try scorer in this year’s competition with two.
Upfront Rob Evans will face a stern test against Italian juggernaut Martin Castrogiovanni. The one-cap wonder has been flung into the side following an injury crisis, coming in for the crocked Gethin Jenkins. The 22-year-old Scarlet may make the occasion his own, though, as he faces an ageing force who like fellow seasoned prop, Adam Jones, is struggling with new scrum rules. Evans will also seek to exploit the Toulon man’s nose – which was punctured by a pooch.
Another key battle on Saturday will be between the two full-backs. Leigh Halfpenny has returned to his mercurial best this year in this year’s tournament. He has scored 54 points, more than any other player. His opposite number is a full-back known for his running game. Although lacking with the boot, Mclean has beaten 10 defenders in this year’s competition. He has also powered his way into gaining 159 metres – more than any other Italy player.
Dan Biggar, who is growing week by week into the 10 Jersey, was more than a match for an oddly quiet Jonny Sexton last weekend – whose threat he quelled expertly. The Ospreys man could run riot against opposite number Kelly Haimona, a 16 st 12 lbs Kiwi-convert who has missed three out of five penalties in this year’s competition.
The foundations are set for a show-stopping Saturday. Win or lose, Wales will take many positives going into this year’s World Cup. Despite throwing away an eight-point half-time lead against England, Cymru will take heart from gritty wins against Ireland and France.
The odds look slim, but Gatland’s men can still do it. C’mon boys!