Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Wales aiming for big win to keep their title hopes alive


Last season’s Grand Slam winners Wales come into their fourth Six Nations match of the season away to Italy today not just looking for a victory, but also to put points on the board.

The reigning champions are playing a bit of catch-up having been beaten by France in Paris and knowing that in order to arrive at next week’s crunch clash against Ireland in Cardiff with a chance of retaining their crown, they need to run in some scores at the Stadio Flaminio.

One reason for that is Ireland wracked up an impressive 38-9 victory in Rome last month, which sees them holding a superior points difference of 23 over Wales.

The Welsh cannot be expected to roll Ireland over in Cardiff, so if the Irish beat Scotland this weekend, Wales will need to win by at least 10 to 15 points more to put themselves in a championship-winning position.

So it made it all the more surprising when coach Warren Gatland made nine changes from the France game two weeks ago.

Among those he has picked is Ospreys’ James Hook at fly-half in place of Scarlet’s Stephen Jones.

However Hook is confident he and his teammates can still produce the goods.

“There was probably a little bit of surprise about the number of changes made to the side, but I don’t really think you could call it a gamble on Warren’s part,” Hook said. “He has faith in all of us as players or he wouldn’t have made these changes. We made too many mistakes in the French game [two weeks ago]. There were four errors in quick succession leading up to one try, yet we could still have won the game. So against Italy, it will be about us cutting out the mistakes. Italy are maybe not as gifted as other teams in the Six Nations, but they are a gutsy side, especially at home. They give 100 percent every game. I’ve already heard someone talk about points differences, but we have to get out there and win the game first.”

For Italy, it has almost already got to the stage where they are playing for pride following crushing defeats to England (36-11), Ireland (38-9) and Scotland (26-6).

Their last two games are against Wales and France, both at home, and Italy and Stade Francais center Mirco Bergamasco knows that they cannot afford to make the same mistakes they have in their previous matches.

“Wales and France are the two teams that play the ball the most in their hands, so it will be important to play at 100 percent,” Bergamasco said.

Last year in Cardiff, Italy suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign, going down 47-8.

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