Wales eyeing Grand Slam

Wales are optimistic captain Sam Warburton will be fit to lead his team’s RBS 6 Nations title bid against France next Saturday.

Warburton misses today’s Millennium Stadium appointment with Italy because of a knee injury, the latest problem following thigh trouble that restricted him to just 40 minutes’ action during victories over Ireland and Scotland last month.

Prop Gethin Jenkins will skipper the side, with Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric handed a first Test match start, packing down alongside back-row colleagues Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau. A Welsh win would then leave them needing to beat France for their third Six Nations and Grand Slam in eight seasons. Of more immediate concern is the Six Nations favourites putting Italy away to set up next week’s assault on Six Nations silverware.

Said Wales assistant coach Rob Howley: “Patience and composure in the opposition 22 and ball in play time is pretty important, along with accuracy on the ball. We have to get the contact area right because international rugby is all about creating quick ball. The quicker the ball, the greater the opportunity we will have to score tries. We want to play a tempo, ball-in-hand game, but in order to do that we have to be accurate in our kicking game. When you see how Italy have played so far, they have good line speed in defence and we have to be aware of that. It is something we did not deal with well at Twickenham, and we have to put that right tomorrow.

“We have to focus on dominating possession and territory. If we are able to do that, the second-half is a little easier. We want to implement our game-plan straight away.”

WALES: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, capt), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys) L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).

ITALY: A Masi (Aironi); L McLean (Treviso), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), A Sgarbi (Treviso), M Bergamasco (Racing Metro); K Burton (Treviso), F Semenzato (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), L Ghiraldini (Treviso), L Cittadini (Treviso), Q Geldenhuys (Aironi), C Van Zyl (Treviso), A Zanni (Treviso), S Favaro (Aironi), S Parisse (Stade Francais, capt).

Replacements: T D’Apice (Aironi), F Staibano (Aironi), M Bortolami (Aironi), R Barbieri (Treviso), T Botes (Treviso), T Benvenuti (Treviso), G Toniolatti (Aironi).

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