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Six Nations 2020: Wales v Italy preview, team news and key stats


New Zealand-born wing Johnny McNicholl will make his Wales debut
2020 Six Nations: Wales v Italy
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 1 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC One Wales & S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary online.

TEAM NEWS

Head coach Wayne Pivac has picked wing George North at centre as defending champions Wales start the 2020 Six Nations against Italy on Saturday.

The backline also includes uncapped New Zealand-born winger Johnny McNicholl.

Taulupe Faletau plays his first Wales game since March 2018 in the back row, while Saracens centre Nick Tompkins could make his debut off the bench.

Italy have picked fly-half Carlo Canna in centre to act as a second playmaker alongside number 10 Tommaso Allan.

Hooker Luca Bigi skippers the side while lock Alessandro Zanni wins his 118th cap.

Commentator’s notes

Andrew Cotter: New Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has the hardest act to follow in replacing fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland.

But Pivac has long been immersed in the Welsh game with the Scarlets and while there are key players missing, such as Gareth Anscombe, Liam Williams and most recently Josh Navidi, there is enough continuity and talent to ensure a smooth transition.

Faletau is a welcome return to the back-row, while North may be a temporary fix to an injury-hit midfield but will relish getting plenty of ball to carry.

Italy are in a state of flux with South African Franco Smith stepping in as interim coach after the resignation of Conor O’Shea and they are also now – barring a ceremonial farewell – without the inspirational Sergio Parisse.

There may be some signs of life from Italy’s clubs, most notably Benetton, but it is hard to see beyond a handsome Wales win to start their title defence.

View from both camps

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac on debutant Johnny McNicholl: “Johnny McNicholl is a player we know a lot about. I have worked with him for a number of years now and he had a good run-out with us against the Barbarians. He has trained well during the week so has got the start.

“George North has played a couple of games in the centre for Ospreys and has had four starts for Wales so it is not foreign to him. George has trained well and taken the challenge up and is looking forward to a fresh start.”

Italy interim head coach Franco Smith: “We have worked hard on and off the pitch to build synergy between the staff and the players. We know our potential and what we can give. I have faith in the team and can’t wait to see them on the pitch against Wales.”

Line-ups

Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Johnny McNicholl, 13-George North, 12-Hadleigh Parkes, 11-Josh Adams, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Tomos Williams; 1-Wyn Jones, 2-Ken Owens, 3-Dillon Lewis, 4-Jake Ball, 5-Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 6-Aaron Wainwright, 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: 16-Ryan Elias, 17-Rob Evans, 18-Leon Brown, 19-Cory Hill, 20-Ross Moriarty, 21-Rhys Webb, 22-Jarrod Evans, 23-Nick Tompkins

Italy: 15-Matteo Minozzi, 14-Leonardo Sarto, 13- Luca Morisi, 12-Carlo Canna, 11-Mattia Bellini, 10-Tommaso Allan, 9-Callum Braley; 1-Andrea Lovotti. 2-Luca Bigi (captain), 3-Giosue Zilocchi, 4-Alessandro Zanni, 5-Niccolo Cannone, 6-Jake Polledri, 7-Sebastian Negri, 8-Braam Steyn

Replacements: 16-Federico Zani, 17-Danilo Fischetti, 18-Marco Riccioni, 19-Dean Budd, 20-Marco Lazzaroni, 21-Giovanni Licata, 22-Guglielmo Palazzani, 23-Jayden Hayward.

Match facts

Head-to-head

  • Wales have won the last 13 consecutive meetings, with an aggregate scoreline of 445-165.
  • Seven of those 13 wins have come with a 20-point margin.
  • Wales have scored 14 tries in the last two home meetings.

Wales

  • Wales have won 18 of their last 21 Six Nations home matches.
  • They could equal their Six Nations record of eight consecutive victories.
  • They conceded the fewest tries (seven) and points (65) in last year’s tournament.
  • Wales and Italy were the joint-lowest try scorers in last year’s tournament with 10.
  • Wales scored nearly a third (30.7%) of their points in the final 20 minutes of 2019 Six Nations games.

Italy

  • Italy have lost their last 22 Six Nations games – a tournament record.
  • They lost all five matches in last year’s tournament by a double-figure margin.
  • They haven’t kept a team to 20 points or fewer since their last victory – the 22-19 win v Scotland in February 2015.
  • They scored two or more tries in four of the five matches in the 2019 tournament.
  • Their total of 10 tries overall was the third time in their history they have reached double figures (2003 & 2018)
  • They had the best line-out in the 2019 tournament, losing just four (success rate of 93.4%).

Match officials

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)

Touch judges: Matthew Carley (England) & Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

TMO: James Leckie (Australia)



Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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