Rugby Union: Worried Welsh should have a little more faith: Italians have problems of their own going into tonight's World Cup ranking match at Cardiff Arms Park. Steve Bale reports

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SO MANY people have been warning Wales not to take Italy lightly in tonight's World Cup ranking match in Cardiff that the real danger is that Gareth Llewellyn's team will overestimate rather than underestimate the oval-ball Azzurri.

In any event, Wales's doleful Arms Park experiences against Romania, Western Samoa and Canada mean that only the most serious attention was ever going to be paid to the Italians. Any side capable of pushing Australia to 23-20 Down Under merit profound respect.

What with Italy's burgeoning reputation and the miserable sequence of events in Welsh rugby since they eked out their 16-9 win in Romania last month, it would be no particular surprise if they were as awkward and inhibited as a year ago when they lost here to Canada.

Hence, perversely, the absolute requirement not to go overboard about the Italians. With no Ieuan Evans and no Scott Quinnell, Wales have lost their best back and best forward, but there is no good reason why players who won the Five Nations' Championship last season should suddenly feel threatened.

Apart from which, Italy have had even more injuries of their own - so much so that the prop Massimo Cuttitta is their third captain in as many games, with the rugby-playing future of their first choice, Massimo Giovanelli, in jeopardy after a road accident in which he smashed a thigh-bone.

Cuttitta was among those beaten 42-12 in Cardiff in a non-cap match two years ago, a result from which Wales should not take too much comfort. 'Italian rugby has changed a lot since then in attitude, determination and fitness,' Cuttitta said, adding ominously that he now regarded Italy's pack as the best scrummagers in the world.

All in all it is a match Wales, more than Italy, will be glad to have out of the way. Romania, having lost to both, are already destined for the World Cup group that includes Australia, South Africa and Canada. Tonight's winners go in with New Zealand, Ireland and the remaining qualifier from Asia - a better option, Wales believe, than the losers' group with England, Western Samoa and Argentina.

We should not expect Alan Davies, the Wales coach, to take any more holidays before then. When Davies got away from it all in Majorca after the win over Romania, Evans's ankle was still intact and Quinnell was still a rugby union player. 'I didn't bother reading any papers because it was my first family holday for years,' Davies said.

As it turned out, it was blissful ignorance. 'I found out in Palma airport when somebody told me Scott had gone north. I went to buy a paper to see if there was anything in there - and when I opened the paper I read that Ieuan had broken his ankle.' To cap it all, the flight was delayed for three hours, but by then Davies would probably have preferred not to come home at all.

Olivier, who toured England with South Africa in 1992, was yesterday added to the squad for Wales and Scotland in place of the wing James Small, who has been dropped from the tour after being involved in a fight in a Port Elizabeth bar at the weekend.

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