Roman ruins a harsh reminder for Wales

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The Independent Online

Unsurprisingly, Warren Gatland did not arrange for his squad to go sightseeing here yesterday. But the Kiwi did take the time to remind them of a few Roman ruins of yore. Namely about the Welsh sides of 2003 and 2007. He is a kind man, that Gatland.

He is rather shrewd, too, cutting through the "nice weekend away" atmosphere permeating across the Italian capital with a cynicism that should ensure his side do the necessaries this afternoon. "We came over on the plane yesterday with a lot of fans who wanted photographs and signatures, which was all very nice," said Gatland yesterday at the team hotel, which, strategically, is out of town. "But the guys who lost here a couple of years ago said on the way home the looks from the supporters weren't the nicest. Their eyes basically said, 'thanks for ruining my weekend'. You could say that is some sort of motivation."

Not that Wales should need any motivation. To win the Championship next week and so achieve what Gatland has claimed will be a bigger success than last season's Grand Slam the Dragonhood must puff enough magic not to only see off Italy but also to address the 23-point advantage Ireland hold over them in the table. Gatland's honesty was admirable in this regard as he refused to take the politically correct road which commands a coach to say he is concentrating only on winning. But he did urge caution from those who expect Wales to go waltzing from the off.

"The points difference is something that might come into our reckoning later in the second half," he said. "First of all, it's about going out there, being physical, getting a performance. Then we can start to open up. If you go into these games and start thinking about the scoreboard right from the start, it is when you get yourselves in trouble.

As the sun shone yesterday everything seemed set up for a try chase; including players with plenty to prove. There were nine who were not in action against France and Gatland has demanded a reason not to reinstate the first-choicers for Ireland.

While this could be the critical afternoon for James Hook – sparkle at 10 and the young Osprey could just force his way into next Saturday's showdown with Ireland and, who knows, from there into the Lions XV – this will obviously be one of the proudest afternoons for Alun-Wyn Jones (left). At 23 the lock will become the youngest captain since Gareth Edwards, 41 years ago. Jones likes to think of himself in the mould of Martin Johnson – the player not the coach – and should he inspire the same response from his forwards then Italy's resistance could be short and futile. For outside, Wales appear as strong as ever with Gavin Henson and Jamie Roberts at last forming the centre partnership that Gatland has long dreamt about.

In contrast, Nick Mallett has been disturbed by entirely different visions. Italy have conceded 12 tries and 100 points thus far. The Italian media has reported that senior players have written to Italian Rugby supremo, Giancarlo Dondi, questioning Mallett's leadership. This has been denied, although it has not been possible to dismiss clear signs of disharmony.

Despite the paucity of talent available, some of Mallett's selections have been baffling – his decision to mark "World Player of the Year" Shane Williams with Giulio Rubini, an inexperienced full-back, being the latest.

The Experimental Law Variations have not helped, but then, nor has the brusque South African. "It's the weakest Italian team I have seen," commented Lyn Howells yesterday, the former Wales coach who has also coached in Italy. "The laws don't suit them and I don't think the coach suits them either."

Italy v Wales teams (Stadio Flaminio, kick-off today 3pm GMT. BBC1): Italy: 15 A Marcato (Treviso); 14 G Rubini (Overmach Cariparma), 13 G Canale (Clermont), 12 Mir Bergamasco (Stade Français), 11 M Pratichetti (Calvisano); 10 L McLean (Calvisano), 9 P Griffen (Calvisano); 1 S Perugini (Toulouse), 2 L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), 3 C Nieto (Gloucester), 4 S Dellape (Toulon), 5 M Bortolami (Gloucester), 6 A Zanni (Calvisano), 7 Mau Bergamasco (Stade), 8 S Parisse (Stade, capt). Replacements: 16 F Sbaraglini (Treviso), 17 M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), 18 C A Del Fava (Ulster), 19 J Sole (Viadana), 20 P Canavosio (Viadana), 21 L Orquera (Brive), 22 R Quartaroli (Cariparma).

Wales: 15 L Byrne (Ospreys); 14 M Jones (Scarlets), 13 J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), 12 G Henson (Ospreys), 11 S Williams (Ospreys); 10 J Hook (Ospreys), 9 M Phillips (Ospreys); 1 J Yapp (Blues), 2 H Bennett (Ospreys), 3 R Thomas (Dragons), 4 L Charteris (Dragons), 5 A-W Jones (Ospreys, capt), 6 J Thomas (Ospreys), 7 D Jones (Scarlets), 8 A Powell (Blues). Replacements: 16 M Rees (Scarlets), 17 G Jenkins (Blues), 18 B Davies (Blues), 19 R Jones (Ospreys), 20 W Fury (London Irish), 21 S Jones (Scarlets), 22 T Shanklin (Blues).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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