Respect the prize on offer for Italy against Wales


London (AFP)

"Respect" has been an oft-heard word in the build-up to the Six Nations international between Wales and Italy in Cardiff on Sunday.

Has Wales coach Warren Gatland shown perennial strugglers Italy a lack of respect by making 10 changes to his side and will the Azzurri, on a desperate run of 15 successive tournament defeats gain a measure of self-respect, if not by victory then at least with an improved showing at the Principality Stadium this weekend?

Wales are out of title contention following an early loss to England and a 37-27 defeat by table-toppers Ireland last time out in Dublin.

Former Ireland coach Gatland, clearly with an eye on next year's World Cup, has decided to examine Wales' strength in depth in a somewhat calmer environment than Japan 2019, and that's just fine by Italy boss Conor O'Shea.

"They are not being disrespectful," O'Shea, who as a fullback played in an Ireland team coached by Gatland.

"Warren is obviously looking ahead to the future, and we are both at different stages.

"I remember working with Warren when I was a player and he came in when Ireland were at a low ebb."

- 'Do what's right' -

O'Shea added: "He started a process there for the future, and you have to start somewhere. Scotland had to do it, and the results Scotland are having now (back-to-back wins over France and England) isn't about one coach coming in, it's about people five, six or seven years ago doing what's right.

"That's what we are doing. If you look at some of the young players we are blooding, it's promising.

"I know I am judged on results, but frankly I don't care. What we will do is what's right.

"'Gats' has done brilliantly, and I know he is trying to evolve his depth, but if you are bringing the likes of (George) North and (Taulupe) Faletau (who will captain Wales on Sunday) in and putting Liam Williams to fullback, it's a pretty good place to be."

Powerhouse wing North was accused of not wanting to play for his club, Northampton, after missing their English Premiership match with Sale last weekend, having been released by Wales in what was a fallow week for the Six Nations.

North has scored six tries in seven Tests against Italy, and Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said: "He has been absolutely fine.

"If you look over the last couple of years, George has tended to do well against Italy in terms of try-scoring chances, so hopefully we will see the best of him on the weekend."

O'Shea has made just the one change following a 34-17 defeat by France, with centre Giulio Bisegni replacing Tommaso Boni.

Even in matches where they haven't fallen behind early on, so many of Italy's recent Six Nations fixtures have seen them fall away badly in the final quarter with a lack of physical fitness, tactical naivety or the plain fact that their opponents, blessed with greater resources, often have better players at their disposal, all playing a part.

Italy have conceded 136 points and 18 tries in their three Championship matches so far this season but a defiant O'Shea insisted: "Are we far off? No, we are not.

"But at this level you can get severely punished for the smallest mistake. You take that France game, it was 14-10 in the 58th minute, and when they got that score to go 21-10 up the energy of their team changed dramatically.

"These are top sides we are playing against. We aren't playing against weak sides. Little things make massive differences," he added.