• Preview: Wales vs Italy

    Wales will begin their charge for an unprecedented third successive Six Nations title with an ideal first game, against Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.

    No nation in this six-team format has ever won three straight titles but it is the quality in Warren Gatland's squad that could break the drought.

    For a good few years now there's been a familiar feel to this group of players as the back three picks itself, three centres can easily rotate should there be an injury, the back row has strength and variety in style while the tight five also boasts British & Irish Lions qualities. Put that against an Italy side that could be on its way to a possible tournament whitewash and there should be one winner in Cardiff this week.

    Wales simply have too much firepower in their arsenal as players return from either uncertain times at their regions or testing months in France. The mess that has blighted the regional game in Wales has seen players move on, break new ground by signing a central contract or just sit tight and hope a solution is found. Expect banners of discontent from supporters on Saturday.

    Wales simply have too much firepower in their arsenal as players return from either uncertain times at their regions or testing months in France

    One cannot blame the players for succumbing to the lure of France, particularly if the Welsh house isn't showing signs of getting into order. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the starting line-up wearing red in Cardiff this weekend, don't, or will soon not be, playing regional rugby.

    Wales unsurprisingly enter as favourites but while having three home games they do face tough trips to Ireland and England. Those are two nations who we expect to challenge Wales for the title so gaining momentum in this opener will be of paramount importance.

    Gatland will hope things click back into gear with little rustiness on Saturday and selection sees him plump for an old faithful in the shape of Rhys Priestland at 10, despite Dan Biggar having been the more consistent over the season. Granted, Priestland has hit form of late but Biggar is immensely unlucky. Wales have won just one of their last 10 fixtures Priestland has started. It will soon be two.

    Why? Italy simply do not possess the quality to cause an upset, as a dismal display from Treviso and Zebre during this season's European Cup pools proves. A total of zero points were recorded by the two sides while they occupy 10th and 11th spot in the Pro12.

    Furthermore they face a Welsh team that oozes stability and is in complete harmony as a playing unit on the international stage. This will be their release from domestic troubles.

    Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
    Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

    Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
    Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.

    VIDEO: Highlights of Wales vs Italy from past six years

    Preview: France vs England

    Six Nations players to watch

    Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

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    Simon Borchardt