Wales interim head coach Rob Howley intends to name the same side that started in the 16-6 victory over France to play Italy next weekend, meaning that captain Sam Warburton will not return to the starting line-up for the game in Rome.
In the build-up to last Saturday’s game, the headlines were dominated by the below-par performances displayed from the Cardiff Blues flanker this season, with many calling for Ospreys back-row Justin Tipuric to replace Warburton at openside flanker. Ultimately, Howley didn’t have to make the decision as Warburton was ruled out with a ‘stinger’, a shoulder injury that he received in the opening game against Ireland.
Howley admitted that had Warburton been fit, he would have led the side out in Paris, but he did not confirm if it would have been in his natural No 7 shirt, or his less preferred blindside position to accommodate the in-form Tipuric. With stand-in captain Ryan Jones also featuring in the back-row along with influential No 8 Toby Faletau, it is easy to see why there were fears for Warburton’s place.
Former Wales scrum-half Howley said: “I have told the players the same XV will start in Italy. I think it is pretty important from a coach’s perspective that we reward the players who have gone out on the field. I thought Ryan Jones was outstanding in terms of his leadership and it is a just reward that he captains the side against Italy.”