Time: Sunday 11th March (15:00)
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Warren Gatland has stunned fans by making sweeping changes in his starting line-up for Wales’ home clash with perennial strugglers Italy.
With the championship all but over for Wales, the coach will be using this fixture to experiment with new combinations.
The men in red have impressed at times during the tournament with their attacking play, but aimless kicking and a lack of ball carriers in the pack have restricted effectiveness.
In reality, any Wales XV from the current squad should beat this year’s Italian side.
The Azzurri have looked as poor as ever defensively this campaign.
With that in mind, Gatland has chosen to have a look at Gareth Anscombe, who starts a competitive international fixture at outside-half for the first time, and flanker James Davies, who makes his debut.
10 changes have been made in total, with the entire front row rotated while Alun Wyn Jones drops out of the 23.
In his place, number eight Taulupe Faletau takes over the duties of captain.
Saracen Liam Williams shifts to fullback from the wing with Leigh Halfpenny dropping to the bench.
Openside flanker Justin Tipuric starts on the blindside of the back row in an unusual move. But Wales are unlikely to be seriously troubled at the breakdown.
In fact, Gatland’s men shouldn’t really be terribly troubled anywhere on the pitch – anything other than a comfortable bonus point win would be considered a poor outcome.
Conor O’Shea’s charges have proved themselves to be the Six Nation’s poorest defensive side again this year – with just three games gone, they’ve conceded an incredible 136 points and 39 penalties while missing 77 tackles.
Italian ill-discipline has proved a real Achilles heel so far. In comparison, Wales have conceded just 56 points – the championship’s second lowest total – while giving away 18 penalties and missing 54 tackles.
With the result surely beyond doubt, Wales, and Gatland, will be judged on the manner of victory; the coaching setup puzzled fans during the Ireland match by abandoning the brand of running rugby that had served them in the initial phases of the tournament.
Wales should be wary of breakaway Italian attacks, however – the Azzurri very nearly nabbed a shock scoring bonus point against Ireland.
Standout players for the nation ranked 14th in the world include imperious captain Sergio Parisse and pacey fullback Matteo Minozzi, who has crossed twice in his three caps.
Ultimately though, this could well turn out to be an exercise in how many tries Gatland’s experimental XV can score past the hapless Italians.
George North, who starts for the first time this campaign, will relish the prospect in particular – he’s grabbed six tries in the last four games against the Azzurri.
An overall lack of ball carriers is still an issue for Wales but the additions of Bradley Davies and Faletau in the pack, as well as burly centre Owen Watkin in the back line, could pay dividends.
Even without the stewardship of their squad captain, Wales should have far too much for Italy to handle on Sunday.
Expect familiar faces to return for the home clash with France.
Prediction: Wales by 25+
1 – Nicky Smith
2 – Elliot Dee
3 – Tomas Francis
4 – Cory Hill
5 – Bradley Davies
6 – Justin Tipuric
7 – James Davies
8 – Taulupe Faletau
9 – Gareth Davies
10 – Gareth Anscombe
11 – Steff Evans
12 – Hadleigh Parkes
13 – Owen Watkin
14 – George North
15 – Liam Williams
Subs: Owens, R Evans, Lee, S Davies, Jenkins, A Davies, Patchell, Halfpenny