6N: Davies to lead Wales team with 11 changes against Italy
Center Jonathan Davies has been entrusted for the first time to captain a second-string Wales side bidding to earn a national record-tying 11th consecutive win on Saturday in Rome at the expense of Italy in the Six Nations.
Wales made 11 changes, one of them positional, after the fluky win over France last weekend in Paris.
Only Davies, fullback Liam Williams, and wing Josh Adams were retained on Thursday in the backline, and lock Adam Beard and Josh Navidi in the forwards. However, Navidi was moved from blindside flanker to No. 8.
Jonah Holmes, taking over from George North on the right wing, and Thomas Young, replacing Justin Tipuric on the openside flank, will make their Six Nations debuts. Flanker Aaron Wainwright and scrumhalf Aled Davies received their first Six Nations starts.
Despite the changes, the front row is still strong with Samson Lee, Nicky Smith, and hooker Elliot Dee sharing nearly 80 caps, and Dan Biggar, the British Lion, is at flyhalf.
For the same match last year, Wales made 10 changes and gave the captaincy for the first time to Taulupe Faletau and they won at home by a convincing 38-14.
Just in case Wale struggles, the reserves feature regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones, No. 8 Ross Moriarty, scrumhalf Gareth Davies, and flyhalf Gareth Anscombe, who all started in the 24-19 win in Paris.
“We have made a number of changes but have picked what we think is a very exciting team that still has huge experience throughout it,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said in a statement.
“We have made a similar number of changes to what we did last year, but it is all about opportunity for these players. We have had a squad of 31 training together (in Nice, France), replicating the Rugby World Cup and it is important they get game-time.”
On a winning streak since last March, Wales could equal the national record for successive wins set from 1907-10.
Italy made just two changes to the side which lost at Scotland 33-20, a championship-record 18th straight defeat.
Zebre captain and midfielder Tommaso Castello and Treviso prop Andrea Lovotti both have flu and were replaced.
Zebre fullback Edoardo Padovani will start, with Michele Campagnaro moving into the center in place of Castello.
Lovotti was replaced by 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.