Six Nations: Sergio Parisse's absence for Italy lets Wales look to getting on a roll


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The Independent Online

Never mind the traditional French pre-match puzzle over which Gallic XV will amble out of the dressing room – today's Six Nations poser is which Italy will turn up at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon? The rumbustious, fearsome outfit that did for France with such pizzazz on opening weekend, or the hapless contingent run briskly ragged by Scotland in round two?

It is a question that Wales will contemplate only one answer to. With Rome advantage restored, the expectation from within the visiting camp is for more of the same that proved too good for France.

"They will be the same as they were against France at home, and it will be a tough challenge," said Alex Cuthbert, the Wales wing. "We will have to front up."

It is a response echoed from front to back in the visiting side. "We know it's going to be hard against Italy," said Adam Jones. "We know how good they are. They are very similar to the French. They pretty much mirror each other how they scrummage and are as close to a French scrum as you can get."

Wales beat France in Paris two weeks ago with a performance that was Herculean in its intensity and suggests strongly that a corner may have been turned. There has been a buoyancy to their preparation, boosted by an early decision to name the same starting XV, and it has been one much smoother than their hosts have enjoyed.

Italy will be without Sergio Parisse, their totem, and following their drubbing at Murrayfield – a match they had entered as favourites – they, like France, have dropped both half-backs. Kris Burton returns as a safe option at No 10 but it is an area where Wales, in the wake of Dan Biggar's impressive display in Paris, look stronger, as they do across the back-line and, with no Parisse, the back row too.

Which leaves the front five as the home side's best hope of wrestling control of the match. France caused Wales problems at the set-piece and Italy have to do likewise. Between them their front three of the centurion Andrea lo Cicero, hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni, Parisse's replacement as captain, have collected 243 caps. Opposite them the Welsh props are no novices – Jones and Gethin Jenkins have 188 caps between them.

"If I can't keep the scrum up, then the scrum isn't going to stay up," said Jones, the tight-head. "It's the be-all and end-all of my game and if I don't do that well then obviously I have had a bad game."