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Wales get perfect chance to finally click in attack as England can do them massive Grand Slam favour against ‘formidable’ France – Gwyn Jones

The irony about the Italy match this weekend is that this is perhaps the only time Wales will go into a game in the Six Nations as favourites, yet they could well win the Grand Slam.

Wales have also participated in three thrilling matches to date this year, but I suspect they would be happier if this weekend was a straightforward day at the office.

Announcing the team early is a sign of confidence. It implies that Wales are happy for the opposition to have two extra days knowing exactly who is playing, but to me it suggests that Wales are concentrating on themselves and know that if they get their game right, there is little Italy will be able to do about it.

I’m not surprised that Wales start with pretty much their strongest team. Despite winning the Triple Crown, there is a feeling the team have not yet clicked in attack. An opportunity to play a bit more rugby against the weakest side in the championship will give them that chance.

The major progress Wales have made in this championship has been in the other aspects of the game. The scrum, lineout, defence and discipline is far better than is was in the autumn. These are the fundamentals of any performance and they were poor previously.

Wayne Pivac’s decision to bring Gethin Jenkins in looked harsh at the time, but it has done the job defensively.

Jon Humphreys has established an effective driving lineout that gives the team an extra dimension.

While other sides have lost their heads, Wales have been calm and efficient, taking most chances they get and not giving easy points away in key moments.

It has been a steep learning curve for this coaching team at international level. Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones were keen to move Wales on from Warrenball, but in their eagerness to concentrate on changing the attack they unintentionally allowed the foundations to slide.

They have re-established the importance of the basics and they have won three matches on the back of it.

That is the balance Wales need to strike again in Rome. They will want to play some open rugby and get their forwards into the wide channels. That is the hallmark of Stephen Jones’ attacking pattern. It’s a way of playing that really suits some of Wales’ star players too, so I can see why they are pursuing the evolution.

But Test match rugby and the Six Nations in particular is a cauldron of passion and pressure where little things matter. You have to try and win each moment, or at least not make a mistake, and in doing so the overall philosophy often gets lost.

That said, if there is a game to find your rhythm, it has to be Italy. They often start championships full of energy and promise but by the back end of the Six Nations they have been well beaten, they’ve lost a few players and they start to look despondent.

Pivac has picked a team to start with intensity, to get on top of Italy physically and not allow them to have any hope. He must also be eyeing the potential Grand Slam decider a week later in Paris.

France on form are a formidable outfit and should they win at Twickenham on Saturday, the task will be even harder. England could do Wales a big favour this weekend.

France have been through a lot these past few weeks and if they lose against England they are bound to be a less daunting prospect than if they win.

What became clear this week is that Pivac is sticking with Dan Biggar to start matches at fly-half. With an eye on the title decider in Paris, Biggar gets a public vote of confidence.

Not many would have thought that Biggar would be first choice in a team coached by Pivac and Jones, but they are sticking with the man who has helped deliver a Triple Crown, so who can argue with that?

My hope against Italy is that, for once, Wales are not involved in a tense, dramatic match. I would prefer a controlled one-sided victory with no injuries, that sets Wales up for the Grand Slam.

I think Wales will win comfortably in Rome. But if we’ve learned anything from the Six Nations so far, things never turn out as you would expect.

Gwyn Jones is a part of S4C’s Clwb Rygbi Rhyngwladol team. Coverage of Italy v Wales gets under way at 1.30pm on Saturday, on S4C and S4C Clic.

This weekend, S4C will also show coverage of Munster v Scarlets (Friday, 7.55pm), and full match replays of Glasgow v Ospreys (Saturday, 9.35pm) and Benetton v Cardiff Blues (Monday, 10pm).

Also, download this week’s Sgarmes Ddigidol rugby podcast, featuring Kieran Hardy, Nigel Owens and Elinor Snowsill, from main podcast providers.

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