The Italians have 18 straight losses in the Six Nations since 2015. The 99-year-old tournament record became theirs outright last weekend in Edinburgh. "Winning becomes a habit, you find a way to win and we're on a pretty decent run on the moment," Wales hooker Ken Owens says. "Records are always there to be broken.
"As a team it is a great achievement to hopefully equal and pass the record. We just want to win rugby matches and the records keep tumbling. Hopefully, we can put ourselves in a bit of history in Welsh rugby."
Wales suffered a scare last weekend in Paris, coming from 16-0 down at halftime to beat France 24-19 . It was the biggest comeback win since the tournament expanded in 2000. In 12 seasons as Wales coach, Warren Gatland has never lost to Italy. He wants his second-string side to prevent a similar start at Stadio Olimpico, where Italy feels a lot more inspired than in, say, Cardiff.
"Italy will play a lot more rugby this week," Gatland says. "They looked dangerous in the last 20 minutes against Scotland, even though there was a yellow card. It just shows that they can be dangerous with ball in hand and I think they'll play.
"We've been in situations before in Rome when games have been close and tight. We've got to stay in the arm wrestle against these guys, create chances, and then try and make the most of them." Wales' winning streak started against Italy in the 2018 Six Nations. Gatland made 10 changes and chose Taulupe Faletau to captain for the first time. The Welsh won comfortably 38-14.
This time, Gatland has made 11 changes and picked center Jonathan Davies as a first-time captain. Only Davies, fullback Liam Williams, and wing Josh Adams were retained in the backline, and lock Adam Beard and Josh Navidi in the forwards from the fluky France win.
Italy coach Conor O'Shea is adamant they are out to end both streaks. "We're preparing to win," O'Shea says. "If we keep a high standard in training we can get really important results. "I really believe in this group. People outside of our camp are free to think that that's something impossible. I don't think that way. I have at my disposal great guys with a lot of value. Our focus has to be firmly on ourselves."
After limiting the loss to Scotland from 33-3 to 33-20 in the last 10 minutes with three tries, Italy has had only two changes after midfielder Tommaso Castello and prop Andrea Lovotti were laid low by flu. Zebre fullback Edoardo Padovani is starting, Michele Campagnaro has moved to his usual center position, and Lovotti has been replaced by Treviso clubmate Nicola Quaglio.
Italy: Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Allan, Guglielmo Palazzani; Sergio Parisse (captain), Abraham Steyn, Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd, David Sisi, Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Nicola Quaglio. Reserves: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Marco Barbini, Edoardo Gori, Ian McKinley, Tommaso Benvenuti.
Wales: Liam Williams, Jonah Holmes, Jonathan Davies (captain), Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Aled Davies; Josh Navidi, Thomas Young, Aaron Wainwright, Adam Beard, Jake Ball, Samson Lee, Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Hallam Amos.
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