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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

No landslide for new-look Wales against Italy

Faletau ready to make a big splash on his return

Taulupe Faletau goes over for Wales against England
1 of 1

Six Nations round four
BBC1 & S4C, 3pm Sunday

Wales coach Warren Gatland has rung the changes as they prepare to face the weakest team in the Six Nations, and that is a formula that has seen his side struggle in past seasons.

It has become common in the autumn for Wales to send out a virtual second string when facing tier-two nations, and they have often made hard work of getting over the line.

A 13-6 victory over Georgia last November, a last-gasp 33-30 win over Japan 12 months earlier, and a 17-13 verdict over Fiji in 2014 all fell well short of the handicap, and the Welsh have been set a mark in the high 20s for this Cardiff contest.

On the plus side is that the squad have been together for a decent stretch and should gel more quickly, while the selection of Gareth Anscombe at fly-half is fully merited on form.

The back three look far from a second string, with George North given his first start of the tournament alongside Liam Williams and Steff Evans. And there is an athletic-looking back row powered by the returning Taulupe Faletau, who captains the side.

So the ingredients are certainly there for Wales to find the high-paced, expansive game they have been looking for against an Italy side who have looked wide-open in defence at times.

There may be a fear that the hosts have ceded too much set-piece power to the Azzurri, but there is enough to Wales's all-round game to suggest they won't get bogged down in a forward battle, and Italy also seem to be moving towards a more positive gameplan.

The Azzurri's losing streak in the Six Nations now stands at 15 matches, their longest since they joined the tournament in 2000, but that sequence is more a reflection of the big strides all of their opponents have made than of a backward move on their part.

Seven tries in their opening three matches is Italy's best scoring tally in any Six Nations championship, and their fitness and ability to compete over 80 minutes has clearly improved under Conor O'Shea.

A win still seems a long way off, but the chances of a 50-plus point defeat, such as they suffered in Cardiff two years ago, seem pretty distant too.

Italy look as if they can get enough points on the board to keep it close, and it remains to be seen how quickly a much-changed Wales side will hit the ground running. A home win by 11 to 20 points looks decent value while it has to be worth backing powerhouse number eight Faletau to mark his first game as skipper with a try.

The Bath man has been given plenty of time to gain full fitness before coming back into the side and looks overpriced to add to his seven-try haul.

Recommendations
Wales to win by 11 to 20 points
1pt 4-1 Ladbrokes
T Faletau to score a try
1pt 5-2 Coral, Ladbrokes


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The back three look far from a second string, with George North given his first start of the tournament alongside Liam Williams and Steff Evans
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