Wales make two changes in front row for final Six Nations match against Italy
Wales go to Rome on Saturday in search of a third title in three years with their third-choice loose-head prop in the front row against opponents they acknowledge are at their strongest up front.
Gethin Jenkins suffered a hamstring strain nine minutes into but remained on the field until half-time. With his experienced back-up in the position, Paul James, out until next month with a hand injury, the uncapped Rob Evans was on the bench.
Evans starts against Italy while on the tight-head, Aaron Jarvis replaces Samson Lee, who lasted 14 minutes against Ireland before suffering a suspected ruptured achilles tendon that may keep him out of action for six months.
Otherwise Wales keep the side that started against Ireland and France in the last round with Jamie Roberts, Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb recovering from knocks they sustained in one of the most gruelling Six Nations matches seen at the Millennium Stadium.
Richard Hibbard, the replacement hooker, has been ruled out with concussion. Ken Owens returns to the bench, along with the Saracens prop Rhys Gill and the Cardiff Blues tight-head Scott Andrews. Gareth Davies, who made an impact on last summer’s tour to South Africa, covers Webb at scrum-half instead of Mike Phillips and will add pep in the final quarter.
Wales, who are first up on Saturday ahead of their title rivals Ireland and England, do not know in advance what will be enough to secure the title. Their focus is on winning, something they have always done in Rome under their head coach Warren Gatland, and setting the other two contenders, who have an appreciably greater points difference, a target.
“The challenge for us is to go there and win and try to do so by a significant margin,” said Gatland. “We know that will be a tough ask and the first job will simply be to get the result. It was good to get the result we wanted in front of our home supporters last weekend and give ourselves a chance going into the last round.
“It is disappointing for Gethin and Samson to miss out, but Rob and Aaron did well when they came on against Ireland and we expect the same again this Saturday. Italy build their confidence around the scrum and line-out drive and those are areas where we will need to compete strongly at the start of the match.”
Wales are aiming for a repeat of 2013 when they lost their first match of the tournament only to clinch the title on the final weekend. They have a points difference of +12 compared to Ireland’s +33 and England’s +37 and while they look the outsiders – – they are playing opponents who fell apart at this stage a year ago, losing 52-11 to England.
Ireland are in Scotland, where they have had close contests on their last four visits, while England are at home to France, the side with the meanest defence this season having given up just two tries. Italy have mustered a mere three points in their two home matches this year and Wales will aim to wear them down before letting rip.
L Halfpenny (Toulon); G North (Northampton Saints), J Davies (Clermont Auvergne), J Roberts (Racing Métro), L Williams (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); R Evans (Scarlets), S Baldwin (Ospreys), A Jarvis (Ospreys), L Charteris (Racing Métro), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport).
Replacements K Owens (Scarlets), R Gill (Saracens), S Andrews (Cardiff Blues), J Ball (Scarlets), J Tipuric (Ospreys), G Davies (Scarlets), R Priestland (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets).