Wales take on Italy in their Six Nations opener in Cardiff with the home team looking to kick start their title defense with a win.
Wayne Pivac’s side go into the game as out and out favourites with the defending champions’ new head coach aiming to make a statement in his first Six Nations game.
Wales won the tournament last year as well as taking home the Triple Crown and Grand Slam titles, with the Italians earning the “Wooden Spoon” in last place.
The tournament comes on the back of the Rugby World Cup last year which saw Warren Gatland’s last Welsh team reach the semi final, being knocked out by eventual winners South Africa.
In a shock call, Wayne Pivac has selected Johnny McNicholl to start on the wing in Saturday’s game against Italy, subsequently earning his first cap for his country.
The Scarlets back, who is originally from Christchurch, qualifies to play for Wales through the residency rule. He was first selected for the squad back in November but didn’t play.
The Italians will look to out smart the home side in midfield having named two play makers to start in Cardiff.
Temporary head coach Marco Smith has chosen both Carlo Canna and Tommasso Allen to play in an attempt to exploit space in the Welsh defense.
TAULUPE FALETAU COMMENTS (FROM WEBSITE)
“The brand and style the Scarlets played when Wayne coached them to win the Guinness PRO12 is an exciting brand. I’m looking forward to fitting into that and playing some rugby.
“Warren gave me my first cap. It’s definitely different with the new guys and the style of play is noticeably different.
“I’m enjoying being coached by them and playing that style of rugby. They have been doing a lot on the basics of handling which has been good.
“Personally I can get a lot better at that. That’s what they’re driving and I can improve on.”
“It will be a step up this weekend as international rugby always is, but I’m just glad I’ve had a couple of games back with Bath to get into the swing of things,”
“I know of the strength of the back-row. It could be anyone picked on any given weekend.
“It is on me to have a crack this weekend. I am just glad to be out there playing rugby.
“We trained at Principality Stadium on Thursday and pulling in there brought a few nerves on. I’m sure there’ll be more on Saturday.”
FRANCO SMITH COMMENTS (FROM WEBSITE)
“I think there will be a lot of continuity. I think Wayne Pivac is very smart in the way he goes about things,”
“He spent five years in Wales – there’s a reason why they’ve appointed him after Warren Gatland. It’s going to be again a big physical challenge but I do think they will bring a bit of an attacking edge.
“World rugby is leaning towards a little bit more of a ball in hand approach going towards 2023 World Cup. Definitely the style Wayne played at the Scarlets will be noticeable in the new approach.”
Games Played: 27
Wales wins: 24
Italy wins: 2