Wales complete their Autumn Nations Cup schedule when they tackle Italy in Llanelli on Saturday. Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key talking points heading into the game.
Wales need a professional Italian job
It has been a difficult autumn campaign for Wales, with a solitary win collected from five starts heading into Saturday’s clash at Parc y Scarlets. Wales will end the year as they started it by hosting Italy, and anything close to resembling a 42-0 drubbing Wayne Pivac’s team handed out in February would at least provide an upbeat finale. Wales showed signs of improvement against England last weekend, yet their attacking game has not ignited, scoring just six tries in five games. They are red-hot favourites to claim a 15th successive win against the Azzurri, and an adventurous approach should see them achieve it in style.
George North – a centre of attention
Wales wing North will make a 98th appearance for his country this weekend, but only the sixth time as a starting centre. Despite his vast experience and renowned try-scoring ability, North has yet to start an Autumn Nations Cup game, featuring off the bench against Ireland and not being involved at all when Wales tackled Georgia and England. He has unquestionably lost ground on fellow wings Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, and he now gains an opportunity in midfield alongside impressive newcomer Johnny Williams. A big performance is required.
The Six Nations looms large
Wales have lost seven of their nine Tests this year, but they will have little time to reflect on those performances, given that a 2021 Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland is just 65 days away. Despite recent results, Pivac can be encouraged by the emergence of several new faces – the likes of Rees-Zammit, Williams, fly-half Callum Sheedy and Cardiff Blues flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham – while he will hope to have current absentees like Ken Owens, Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi back in the selection mix. It is far from gloom and doom, but Wales need to hit the ground running and make an immediate Six Nations statement when Ireland come calling.
Callum Sheedy looks the real deal
He might only be three games into a Test career that began just three weeks ago, but Bristol fly-half Sheedy performs like a seasoned veteran on and off the pitch. After guiding his club to the Gallagher Premiership play-offs and a European Challenge Cup final triumph last season, Sheedy has carried that form into the international arena and appears a long-term Wales successor to 31-year-old Dan Biggar. Confident and accomplished on the pitch, affable and engaging off it, there is nothing not to like about him.
Italy’s Welsh connection
Wales-born Stephen Varney will make his first Test start on Saturday – for Italy. The 19-year-old Gloucester scrum-half was raised in Pembrokeshire, while his father Adrian enjoyed an impressive club rugby career as a flanker with Neath and Aberavon. Varney, whose middle name is Lorenzo, has strong Italian connections, though. His great-grandfather served in the Italian army and was a prisoner of war at a camp in west Wales, and Varney’s maternal grandparents are also from Italy. He was once a member of the Scarlets academy, but now returns to Llanelli in a blue shirt, rather than red.
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