Liam Williams has backed Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s selection approach to the Six Nations clash against Italy on Saturday.
Gatland made 12 changes to his starting line-up for last season’s corresponding fixture in Cardiff, and Wales launched an ongoing 10-game unbeaten run by beating the Azzurri 38-14.
This time round, it is 10 switches, with full-back Williams among only five starting survivors from the team that wiped out a 16-point deficit seven days ago to beat France 24-19.
Wales prepared for the Rome encounter with a 31-man training group during five days on the Cote d’Azur earlier this week, with Gatland utilising his squad at the start of a World Cup year.
Asked if 10 changes could be a potential risk to continuity, Williams said: “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s great.
“We have so much competition up for grabs in each position, and it’s great for us looking forward to the World Cup.
“That might be one of the reasons why Warren has changed the team. I think we will be fine at the weekend, and hopefully we will get the win.”
Recent history between Italy and Wales suggests that the visitors could enjoy a points blitz.
In the countries’ last four Six Nations games, Wales have racked up a total of 199 points, with two of their four victories seeing them score more than 60 points.
They are also on a 12-Test winning run at Italy’s expense, but Saracens star Williams has urged caution.
“We know Italy are a tough team to play against at home,” he added.
“In the last couple of times we’ve played in Rome it has been very tight in the first half and then we’ve pulled away in the second half and won the game comfortably.
“We have to play for 80 minutes. Against France we played very poorly in the first half and were much better in the second. This week we need to play for the full 80.
“Our first job is to go out there and play well as a team. If the opportunities to score four tries arise, then we have to take them.
“That is especially important in international rugby. What will be will be, but we will do our best to get one (bonus point).
“Four years ago we came out to Italy and we were winning by a point at half time, and then we went out and scored 47 points in the second half.
“I don’t think that statistic of them not winning for a long time is going to make a big difference to the game.
“Italy played very well in the second half against Scotland and came back right at the end. That shows once again that we have to play for 80 minutes, and not 40.”
And victory in his first game as Wales skipper would extend 60th birthday celebrations for Davies’ father.
Davies’ parents watched Wales beat France in Paris last week before travelling through Switzerland on the Glacier Express, and then heading to Rome.
“My dad was 60 on Tuesday, so they went from Paris through Switzerland on the Glacier Express,” Davies said. “I think they have had a great week, mum and dad.
“They have been a massive part of where I am today, so to have my family and loved ones out here is great.”
Davies leads a side showing 10 changes from the France game as Wales protect a 12-match unbeaten record against Italy.
The Azzurri, meanwhile, have not won a Six Nations Test on home soil since 2013, while their last victory in the tournament came four years ago.
Davies added: “It is important we start well. We can’t give Italy opportunities to get into the game.
“We are looking to start fast and keep going. The week has been great, and the boys are excited.
“They (Italy) always come out pretty fast, so it is about managing that start.
“It is about keeping to what we have worked on over the last few weeks, build momentum and pressure, and hopefully that hard work we put in at the start will pay off.”
A Wales win would make it 11 in a row against all opponents, equalling their all-time record run set between 1907 and 1910.
And Davies will be at the helm this weekend after taking over leadership duties from lock Alun Wyn Jones, who is among Wales’ replacements at Stadio Olimpico.
“It is a huge honour, but any time you put on the red jersey of Wales it is an honour in itself,” Davies said.
“There is added responsibility, but it is something I am looking forward to. I am very fortunate with the players we have – they know the standards needed.
“For me, it is making sure boys are in a good frame of mind, and know what we want to achieve.”
Wales have arrived in Rome straight from a training camp on the Cote d’Azur, and there are opportunities for several players to make an impact at the start of World Cup year.
Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Leicester wing Jonah Holmes both make Six Nations debuts, with Young emulating his father – former Wales prop Dai Young – in representing Wales on the tournament’s stage.
Centre Owen Watkin, scrum-half Aled Davies and flanker Aaron Wainwright are also among those looking to take a chance handed them by Wales head coach Warren Gatland.
“We had 31 players in Nice, so it is giving everyone an opportunity to show what they have,” Davies said.
“Looking at last year, there were a similar amount of changes, and so there is that pressure and responsibility of the group who will play here to make sure we deliver a performance to build momentum after last week.”
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Rory Best has admitted losing Devin Toner to an ankle injury for the rest of the Six Nations is a “massive” blow to Ireland.
Leinster lock Toner has undergone ankle surgery for the issue suffered in Ireland’s 32-20 loss to England last weekend and will be sidelined for two months.
The dependable second-row has so far only missed six Test matches since Joe Schmidt took charge of Ireland in 2013, featuring more regularly than any other player under the Kiwi’s stewardship.
Ireland’s defence of their 2018 title took a hefty hit with that punishing loss to England in Dublin, and hooker Best has admitted Toner’s extended absence is another dent.
“Look it’s massive, he’s been a big part of what we’ve created here over the last while,” said Best.
“He’s a great player, and over the last 18 months, two years, he’s probably played some of the best Rugby of his career.
“So to lose a player like that, and the intellectual property he brings around the lineout.
“You all know him, the calmness he has is a great thing to have around the team environment. So he’ll be a loss, as any great player is.”
Toner is Ireland’s third frontline lock injury in this tournament, with British and Irish Lion Iain Henderson missing with a finger complaint and Munster powerhouse Tadhg Beirne out with knee trouble.
Ireland’s much-vaunted strength in depth at lock has taken something of hammering, though the fast-rising James Ryan remains in situ and will be partnered in Scotland on Saturday by Quinn Roux.
Connacht’s Roux will share the burden of calling Ireland’s lineouts at Murrayfield, while provincial team-mate Ultan Dillane can offer pace and power on the ball from the bench.
“When these things happen it gives an opportunity to somebody else,” said Best.
“I thought Quinn Roux was great when he came on against England, he showed a lot of physicality, he’s been playing very well for Connacht.
“This is a massive opportunity for him, and also a big opportunity for James Ryan to step up, and also lead in that second-row.”
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