Wales are widely expected to take another step towards a second Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam in three seasons when they tackle Italy at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Wayne Pivac’s team have not lost to the Azzurri since 2007, but despite Italy’s struggles for Six Nations success, Wales will not be taking them lightly.
Here, the PA news agency looks at a key individual battle between experienced forwards Luca Bigi and Ken Owens.
Luca Bigi – Zebre
Bigi is skipper of an Italy team on the receiving end of three comprehensive defeats in this season’s tournament, while it is six years since the Azzurri won a Six Nations game. Bigi has taken the captaincy reins from the imperious Sergio Parisse, and his individual form has not waned, despite many matches proving little more than damage-limitation exercises. A fiercely proud player and leader, Bigi will again demand that his colleagues relish the task ahead – albeit in adversity – and he will be at the forefront of the set-piece battle as Italy look to give Wales food for thought.
Ken Owens – Scarlets
Owens has been an integral part of the Wales set-up since he made his Test debut during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Now with 80 caps to his name, his all-round excellence, vast experience and technical expertise make him among the first names written down on head coach Wayne Pivac’s team-sheet. Wales missed him during the Autumn Nations Cup when he was sidelined due to a shoulder injury, and the man nicknamed The Sheriff has come out all guns blazing in this season’s Six Nations, playing key roles in victories over Ireland, Scotland and England.