By Brendan Cole
Both of these sides have beaten winless pre-tournament favourites France but it is Wales who are gathering momentum while Italy look to be stalling.
The Italians often struggle to maintain momentum through the middle of the Six Nations campaign and they duly hit the buffers against Scotland in round two.
The loss to suspension due a red card given for abuse of the referee in a Top 14 match by captain Sergio Parisse will further rob their challenge of vigour.
The quality of Italy’s win over France is open to question on the basis of the barely believable lethargy of the French on the day.
Wales were not exactly impressive against the same oppostion, but they won in Paris.
Luciano Orquera has never before been as effective and in all probability will never again be. He certainly wasn’t against the Scots, and Kris Burton gets the start at out-half this time, which hints at a more pragmatic, kick-heavy approach.
That said, Italy do have a threat in the backs. Edoardo Gori is assured and slick at scrum-half and the trio of Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti and Tommaso Benvenuti pose a threat in the wide channels.
"Wales have almost certainly got their worst half of rugby out of the way"
But Wales have almost certainly got their worst half of rugby out of the way, that abysmal first half against Ireland, and are stumbling towards their strongest XV via a combination of players returning from injury and form calls that probably should have been made sooner.
They will be at the strongest in the final weekend.
The main concern in the current starting XV is Mike Phillips, who is persisted with even though his withdrawal prompted swift uplifts in tempo and performance against both France and Ireland.
In the centres, Jamie Roberts could also do with a big performance.
If Phillips can find his form, he will have plenty of firepower in the form of battery of strong ball carriers and they may be the key.
If properly used, Justin Tipuric, Ryan Jones, Toby Faletau, Ian Evans and Gethin Jenkins should be able to get on top of a moderate looking Italian eight. The Welsh backline also looks to have physical edge on their opposites in enough positions to make it an advantage.
Italy’s struggles to manage kicking exchanges against the Scots won’t have gone unnoticed either – Wales certainly know how to keep the ball on the park to good effect.
With the Championship still just about in play, Wales may even entertain thoughts of running up a score.
Match prediction: Italy 6-25 Wales
Italy: A Masi (Wasps); G Venditti (Zebre), T Benvenuti (Treviso), G Canale (La Rochelle), L McLean (Treviso); K Burton (Treviso), E Gori (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), L Ghiraldini (Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester, capt), A Pavanello (Treviso), F Minto (Treviso), A Zanni (Treviso), S Favaro (Treviso), M Vosawai (Treviso).
Replacements: D Giazzon (Zebre), A De Marchi (Treviso), L Cittadini (Treviso), Q Geldenhuys (Zebre), P Derbyshire (Treviso), T Botes (Treviso), L Orquera (Zebre), G Garcia (Zebre)
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Toulon), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), A Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), C Mitchell (Exeter), A-W Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), L Williams (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Perpignan), S Williams (Scarlets).
Live RBS 6 Nations coverage on RTÉ Two from 2pm on Saturday 23 February and 1.15pm on Sunday 24 February (Scotland v Ireland). Live streaming Ireland only.
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