Eurosport

Wooden spoon decider?

Wooden spoon decider?
By Reuters

11/03/2006 at 14:26Updated

Champions Wales face the ultimate barometer of how far they have fallen in the last 12 months when they play Italy in a potential Six Nations wooden spoon decider at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

A year ago Wales were about to complete the grand slam, playing high-speed exhilarating rugby under the stewardship of coach Mike Ruddock.

Now, shorn through injury of most of the team who swept to the 2005 title, with Ruddock gone and confidence sapped by heavy defeats in England and Ireland, they are being eyed by Italy coach Pierre Berbizier as his team's best hope of a first ever away victory in the tournament.

After a bright start in Dublin on Feb. 26, Wales lost their way horribly in a 31-5 defeat.

Australian caretaker coach Scott Johnson, however, has made only one change, bringing back fit-again wing Shane Williams for Dafydd James, to his starting XV.

HOUR OF NEED

"What we saw against Ireland just wasn't us and my message to the fans is - don't give up on us yet. This is our hour of need and we need you now more than ever.

"Italy will be strong, they are the biggest improvers in the championship, but that is exactly the test we need, to get ourselves back on track."

Bizarrely, should Wales rediscover their form and repeat their 38-8 success in Rome last year, they could still retain the title on points difference by beating France in their final match, also in Cardiff.

A more realistic aim is to scramble any sort of a win against a team who have led in the second half against Ireland, England and France, only to fall away on each occasion.

Italy have been a mix of promise and old faults - their expansiveness at the back created the leads but a lack of concentration and an inability to tighten things up when opponents get up a head of steam have seen them turned over.

BERBIZIER FUMING

That tendency was particularly marked in their last match in Paris where they led France 12-8 at halftime before conceding a succession of late tries to go down 37-12.

"We helped them to win a match in which they were in extreme difficulty. We lacked a killer instinct - it's something we still have to work on."

Berbizier has made three changes. Lock Santiago Dellape reclaims his place, Maurizio Zaffiri has the tough job of replacing injured flanker Mauro Bergamasco and Ezio Galon starts at fullback.

But it is a change in mentality, not personnel that is needed. "We have got to play for 80 minutes if we want to bring home a win," said flanker Sergio Parisse.

"The time for honourable defeats is over."

Teams:

Wales - 15-Lee Byrne; 14-Mark Jones, 13-Hal Luscombe, 12-Matthew Watkins, 11-Shane Williams; 10-Stephen Jones, 9-Dwayne Peel; 8-Michael Owen (captain), 7 Martyn Williams, 6-Colin Charvis, 5-Robert Sidoli, 4-Ian Gough, 3-Adam Jones, 2-Rhys Thomas, 1-Duncan Jones
Replacements: 16-Mefin Davies, 17-Gethin Jenkins, 18-Jonathan Thomas, 19-Alix Popham, 20-Mike Phillips, 21-Nicky Robinson, 22-Gavin Henson

Italy - 15-Ezio Galon; 14-Pablo Canavosio, 13-Gonzalo Canale, 12-Mirco Bergamasco, 11-Ludovico Nitoglia; 10-Ramiro Pez, 9-Paul Griffen; 8-Josh Sole, 7-Maurizio Zaffiri, 6-Sergio Parisse, 5-Marco Bortolami (captain), 4-Santiago Dellape, 3-Carlos Nieto, 2-Fabio Ongaro, 1-Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16-Carlo Festuccia, 17-Andrea Lo Cicero, 18-Martin Castrogiovanni, 19-Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 20-Alessandro Zanni, 21-Simon Picone, 22-Cristian Stoica

Referee: Joel Jutge (France)

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