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Rugby | Six Nations

Sergio Parisse © Gallo Images

All to play for as Italy take on Wales



Italy and Wales face off in the Six Nations at Rome's Olympic Stadium on Saturday on starkly contrasting trajectories following the first two round of games.

The home side opened the 2013 campaign with a stunning 23-18 win over favourites France, but failed to follow up a week later with a dismal 32-10 loss to Scotland in Edinburgh.

Last year's Grand Slam champions Wales were caught cold by a first half assault from Ireland in Cardiff to open with before rebounding with a gritty 16-6 triumph over the French at a frigid Stade de France.

That leaves plenty of question marks and a lot to play for in Saturday's game and the early signs are all in favour of the Welsh under interim coach Rob Howley.

The Italians will have to do without skipper and standout player Sergio Parisse, the No 8 having been hit by a 30-day suspension for insulting the referee when playing last weekend for his French club side Stade Francais.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel said that his inititial reaction to that red card was that it was a disaster for his side, but on reflection he now says that perhaps it will allow others to step up to the mark and assume their responsibilities.

"It's better for us to concentrate on the Welsh and not get too caught up with the absence of Parisse. Other players can influence the game and we cannot be over-dependent on the one player," he said.

Still the Frenchman, who took over as coach from Nick Mallett last year, says he is wary that the Welsh are getting back to their best after a run of eight straight losses was brought to an end in Paris.

"Against the Irish, they were at a loose end for half an hour and then it was them that controlled the game and could have easily won it in the end," he said.

"Against France they played another great match. They are powerful, can run through the phases, and maintain a top level of play. It will be a very tough match for us, a very tough physical contest."

The enforced replacement of Parisse apart, Brunel has made three other changes replacing his misfiring halfback pairing with the return of Kristopher Burton at fly-half and Edoardo Gori at scrumhalf.

Antonio Pavenello takes over at lock from Quintin Geldenhuys, while veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni assumes the captaincy in the absence of Parisse.

Howley has given a vote of confidence to the team that won in Paris, which means that there is no swift return for last year's skipper Sam Warburton, who missed the Stade de France fixture due to a shoulder injury.

His role at openside flanker remains in the possession of the fast developing Justin Tipuric, who was hugely impressive against the French, with fellow back-row forward Ryan Jones keeping the captaincy.

Howley, standing in as coach for Warren Gatland, who has been seconded to take the British and Irish Lions on their summer tour of Australia, wants to see more of the same from his team.

"In France the players showed real determination and resilience and we will need that again in Rome," the former Wales No 9 said.

"Italy have already showed so far in this campaign what they are capable of, so we know the challenge we will be facing on Saturday."

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