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Alun Wyn Jones to be benched as new captain steps up

Jonathan Davies is expected to captain Wales in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.

Press Association Sport understands that Scarlets centre Davies will lead his country for the first time.

Regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones is set to be on the bench in a much-changed Wales team.

France v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Stade De France
Alun Wyn Jones is expected to be on the bench in Rome (Adam Davy/PA)

Head coach Warren Gatland will name his line-up on Thursday, with Wasps flanker Thomas Young poised to make his Six Nations debut in Rome.

The 26-year-old Wasps flanker, whose two previous caps were gained on tour against Tonga and Samoa in 2017, could make Wales’ matchday 23 following last week’s fightback victory over France.

Wales have a 31-man playing group at their Nice training base, and the likes of Young and Leicester back Jonah Holmes – a Test debutant earlier this season – might be involved in Rome.

The 24-19 win against France last Friday – secured after wiping out a 16-point interval deficit – was Wales’ 10th successive victory.

And if they beat Italy for a 13th time on the bounce, it will equal Wales’ all-time unbeaten record of 11 Tests set between 1907 and 1910.

Young, son of Wasps rugby director and former Wales prop Dai Young, has been among the Gallagher Premiership’s strongest performers this season.

And the Stadio Olimpico encounter is likely to offer him an opportunity of leaving an impression early in World Cup year.

Wasps' <a href=Thomas Young (centre) is set to make his Wales debut" data-title="Wasps v Bath – Heineken European Champions Cup – Ricoh Arena" data-copyright-holder="PA Wire" data-copyright-notice="PA Wire/PA Images" data-credit="David Davies" data-usage-terms="Editorial use only. No commercial use." />
Wasps’ Thomas Young (centre) is set to make his Six Nations debut (David Davies/PA)

“He has been a consistent player,” Wales assistant coach and forwards specialist Robin McBryde said.

“He is a consistent performer for Wasps every week. He’s playing in a league where there are big men week-in, week-out, and the intensity is there.

“He’s had several man-of-the-match awards. In defence he makes intelligent decisions of when to compete for the ball, and in attack he links up with the backs. He is doing that here as well.

“Our training is a bit different to club level – the intensity and metres covered is up – but he has dealt with it.

“It is an opportunity for anyone down here to stake a claim and make a name for themselves. If anyone gets the opportunity, they have to take it and make the most.”

Wales again trained in glorious Cote d’Azur sunshine on Tuesday, and McBryde added: “It’s very reminiscent of Llandudno, so I feel at home!

“It has been good to recuperate after a tough match last Friday night. You couldn’t ask for better surroundings.

“But we have to be aware not to slip into holiday mode. We’ve got some hard work to do before Italy.

“Everybody realises the importance for the first two games and the momentum it can create by getting positive results.

“We can’t rest on our laurels. Italy are a tough nut to crack, and we have areas to improve on from last Friday.”

Wales battled back to secure victory in France
Wales battled back to secure victory in France (David Davies/PA)

Gatland is keeping selection cards close to his chest, but it would be no surprise to see changes being made in the starting XV and on the replacements’ bench.

“Italy will be buoyed by the last 15 minutes when they came back strongly against Scotland (last Saturday),” McBryde said. “There wasn’t a lot in the game.

“They showed how dangerous they can be in attack against Scotland. They are comfortable at lineout time, so it will be a big test for us.”

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Alun Wyn Jones to be benched as new captain steps up