Aaron Wainwright Wales

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 15: Aaron Wainwright of Wales looks on as he speaks to the media after the Wales Captain's Run, prior to the Guinness Six Nations Round Five match between Wales and Italy, at Principality Stadium on March 15, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Wales Gear Up To Avoid “Embarrassing” Six Nations Wooden Spoon

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By Paul Jones

Aaron Wainwright insists nothing but victory will be acceptable for Wales in Saturday’s wooden spoon decider against Italy.

Wales must win in Cardiff to have any chance of not finishing bottom of the Guinness Six Nations table for a first time since 2003.

Narrow defeats against Scotland and England this season were followed by heavier losses at the hands of Ireland and France, leaving Wales four points adrift in sixth place.

Even if they topple Italy, Wales could still remain rooted to the basement should losing bonus points come into play.

Asked how desperate he would be to avoid having a wooden spoon on his resume, Wales number eight Wainwright said: “It would be embarrassing.

“We can’t afford to go out tomorrow and lose. We need to win. I don’t think anything else is acceptable.

“Massive respect to the Italians for what they’ve done so far in the tournament, but we are definitely going out there and getting a win to end the campaign on a high.
“We were accurate and played well in the first 20 minutes (against France), and it is about doing that against Italy and sustaining it for the rest of the game.

“We won in Rome last year, and we will be looking to do the same this time to finish on a positive note and take something away from this campaign.”

Italy beat Wales at the Principality Stadium two years ago, and they now return to tackle a team that have lost their last six home games in the Six Nations.

Warren Gatland had a Six Nations win ratio of around 70 per cent during his first stint in the job from 2008 to 2019. Since he returned for last year’s tournament, it stands at barely 10 per cent.

There are mitigating factors, including post-World Cup retirements of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny – George North will follow after Saturday’s game – Louis Rees-Zammit quitting rugby for a possible NFL career, Liam Williams moving to Japan and the likes of Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau and Dewi Lake all being sidelined by long-term injuries.

Five players have made Test debuts during an extensive Six Nations rebuild, but Wales’ lack of depth is highlighted by their front-row replacements on Saturday – Evan Lloyd, Kemsley Mathias and Harri O’Connor – having just 41 minutes of international experience between them.

Gatland has never lost to Italy as Wales boss, and he said: “We are all aware it is an important game for us. We are at home.

“We have felt like we’ve been in all the games for long periods and put ourselves in positions.

“We could have won a couple more games than we have at the moment, and that is frustrating for us. But I talk to the players continuously about game-management scenarios and looking to improve.

“They (Italy) look probably in better shape physically than they have ever been in the past. They have got some depth across the whole of the squad.”
Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins said: “In these sorts of games you can tell who is meant for the Test arena and who really wants it.

“There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel; 2003 probably wasn’t the best season (for Wales), but then you go to 2005 and they are winning Grand Slams.

“That is our aim and where we want to be.”

Italy, meanwhile, have finished last in the tournament for the past eight years. But they head to Cardiff after drawing with France and beating Scotland, raising hopes of a repeat of their victory at the Principality Stadium in 2022.

“A very difficult match awaits us. The pressure will be on both teams,” said Italy head coach Gonzalo Quesada.
“Wales are hungry for points, and they will say goodbye to one of their greatest players of recent years George North.

“In all, or almost all, of their (Six Nations) matches they had the opportunity to play on equal terms with their opponents for certain moments. In the second half against Scotland and in the first hour of the battles against England and France, so the defeats that have come are not really that bad.”

Three changes have been made by Quesada after Italy beat Scotland 31-29 in Rome, with Lorenzo Panni coming in for the injured full-back Ange Capuozzo.

Welsh-born Gloucester scrum-half Stephen Varney starts instead of Martin Page-Relo, and Lorenzo Cannone comes in at number eight.

Capuozzo, the star who helped Italy beat Wales with a fantastic try two years ago, is out of action because of a broken finger.

Quesada said: “Ange was hurt during a Scottish try in the first half. He played more than half of the match against Scotland with a fractured third finger on his left hand.”

“During the week he tried to train with special protection, but after a short time we realised that it would have been impossible to have him available.

“Varney has the right characteristics to start this match. And then Page-Relo is also a footballer, and in the last half-hour this could be an option.”

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