WARREN Gatland has been accused of disrespecting Italy after making 10 changes for Sunday’s match.
Amongst the critics is former Italy scrum-half, Paul Griffen.
“In Italy it will be seen as disrespectful because they are not playing their strongest team,” he said.
“Wales could go on and finish second in the Championship so why would they make this many changes? Italy will have greater incentive now,” Griffen added.
Gatland, however, says this is nothing new.
“We have made a number of changes in the past, particularly against Italy,” he said.
Defenders of the New Zealander say he is simply using the match to discover more about his squad in a fixture that Wales should still win comfortably.
Wales have not lost to Italy since 2007.
The Italians are just two losses shy of the all-time championship record of 17 straight defeats, set by France in 1911-20.
Despite conceding 136 points in this year’s tournament, the Italians have adopted a more expansive style of rugby under new coach Conor O’Shea.
“If we have possession we know we’re dangerous,” he said earlier this week.
Full-back Matteo Minozzi and flanker Sebastian Negri have taken to O’Shea’s gameplan. Only Irishman CJ Stander has made more carries than the Zimbabwean-born Negri.
The Azzurri’s biggest problem is their failure to keep the ball, something debutant James Davies will be seeking to exploit.
The 27-year-old Scarlets flanker is both a stellar ball handler and master of the breakdown. Meanwhile, Gareth Anscombe returns to the side at fly-half after an impressive substitute display against England last month.
George North and Taulupe Faletau represent a hard core of experience. Both return following injury.
The Cardiffian says:
Consecutive defeats may have knocked Wales out of contention for the title, but Warren Gatland will be quietly pleased with a lot of what he has seen.
An emphatic win against the Italians will further reinforce the idea this tournament is a significant one in Wales’s development.
Italy are improving under O’Shea, so don’t expect a repeat of 2016’s 67-14 mauling. Wales by 15.