Wales boss Warren Gatland makes six changes for Italy game after England defeat

Wales boss Warren Gatland makes six changes for Italy game after England defeat

Warren Gatland has made six changes to the Wales starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy in Rome.

Wing Louis Rees-Zammit, full-back Leigh Halfpenny, lock Alun Wyn Jones and flanker Christ Tshiunza are among those omitted following the 20-10 loss to England last time out.

Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb will make a first Test start since October 2020, replacing Tomos Williams, while Rio Dyer is preferred to Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams returns in the number 15 shirt.

Elsewhere, prop Wyn Jones, lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Jac Morgan also feature but there is no place in the matchday 23 for fly-half Dan Biggar.

Rees-Zammit, who scored an interception try against England, has to be content with a place on the bench, where he will be joined by the likes of George North, Rhys Davies and Tommy Reffell.

Alun Wyn Jones, Halfpenny and Tshiunza join Biggar in having no involvement. Owen Williams keeps the number 10 role as Wales strive to avoid a fourth successive defeat in this season’s tournament, with centre Joe Hawkins seemingly set to provide fly-half cover.

Dan Biggar
Dan Biggar has missed out on a place in Wales’ matchday 23 to face Italy (Mike Egerton/PA)

If Wales are beaten at Stadio Olimpico, it would effectively consign them to a Six Nations wooden spoon, with their final fixture against France in Paris on Saturday week.

Wales have not finished bottom of the Six Nations for 20 years, while their last away defeat at Italy’s hands came in 2007.

Head coach Gatland has seen Wales lose to Ireland, Scotland and England since he returned for a second spell in the job, and Wales’ record across the last 15 Tests shows just three wins.

They now face an Italian side that impressed in each of their three Six Nations games so far, yet like Wales are still searching for a first victory.

And Italy also go into the game having not won a Six Nations match in Rome since they toppled Ireland 10 years ago.

Gatland said: “We feel that having watched Italy and how they will tend to play from everywhere, including their own 22, getting guys on the ball is going to be pretty important.

“Rhys Webb gets an opportunity at nine, having been training well. He’s been great in the squad, he brings that experience and a voice to that nine position.

“We did discuss whether we put Louis Rees-Zammit to full-back and how that would have looked, but he still hasn’t played a lot of rugby in terms of coming back from a relatively long injury with his ankle.

“And we just felt with the way the game’s going to be and the pace of the game, that him coming off the bench and the impact he can have could be pretty important.

“We have been disappointed with the results so far, and for me it is hard to take as it is the first time I have lost three games in the Six Nations with Wales.

“The message to the players has been that we have to be smart in terms of the way we play, but we’ve also got to be brave and make sure that when the opportunities are on we shift the ball.”