Wales two wins from Six Nations crown

by Staff Writer

Wales coach Warren Gatland must somehow keep a lid on simmering expectation ahead of the Six Nations clash against Italy at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Successive wins over Ireland, Scotland and England have seen Wales clinch their 20th Triple Crown and they are now two games away from the title and a potentially historic grand slam.

A third clean sweep in eight years, following those of 2005 and 2008, would mean Gatland's men had matched the achievements of the likes of Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and JPR Williams in the great Welsh teams of the 1970s.

"This team is a real credit to Wales and Welsh rugby," said Gatland. "The Six Nations is such a tough tournament to win.

"You get momentum and confidence from a couple of wins and, as we've seen this week in our training, the players grow an extra arm and a leg when they win," he added.

"It isn't just a game or a tournament, the Six Nations is more than that," the former Ireland coach insisted.

"You have to cope with all the pressure and it is very enjoyable when you are winning but you end up dodging bullets and pulling knives out of your back when you're losing."

The New Zealander has learned to deal with the expectancy within Wales and now he must safeguard his players from being carried away with the national fervour ahead of a 'banana skin' fixture against Italy.

Wales have everything to lose and little to gain at the Millennium Stadium, given they have never lost to the Azzurri in Cardiff, despite a draw in 2006.

"Italy has the least strength in depth of all the teams but they are always strong up front and bring a lot of emotion to the game," Gatland said.

"Their tactical kicking is good and they put teams under pressure. We have got to be very much aware that we need to keep our patience.

"Italy should have beaten England and they have been in every game up to halftime. If it is still close at halftime then we need to remember it is a game of 80 minutes. It is going to be a war of attrition in the first 20 minutes and we have to match their physicality and be accurate in our game."

Wales will again be without captain Sam Warburton, ruled out by a knee injury, so 21-year-old Justin Tipuric is in line for a first Test start.

However, Gatland is able to field his all-British and Irish Lions front-row, with experienced hooker Matthew Rees, fit following a calf problem, packing down between Adam Jones and new captain Gethin Jenkins.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel is still waiting for his first win following heavy defeats in France and Ireland, either side of a strong display against England.

Brunel has made seven changes to the team beaten 42-10 by Ireland, including recalls for Australia-born fly-half Kris Burton, scrum-half Fabio Semenzato, centre Gonzalo Canale and wing Mirco Bergamasco, who will resume the goal-kicking duties.

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