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Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Gatland challenges recalled stars

SIX NATIONS 2009 - ITALY v WALES
Venue: Stadio Flaminio Date: Saturday, 14 March Kick-off: 1500 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC ONE Wales and online, full commentary on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru and online plus score updates on BBC Radio 5 Live


Wales coach Warren Gatland
Coach Warren Gatland is preparing for his first Wales game in Rome

Warren Gatland says Wales' recalled stars could earn a place in the crunch final Six Nations game against Ireland if they impress in Italy on 14 March.

Wales can win the Triple Crown against Ireland, in a game which is also likely to decide the championship title.

Coach Gatland concedes he has put himself under pressure by making 10 changes from Wales' defeat in France.

"There's a chance for the players to perform well with a Triple Crown game against Ireland in mind," said Gatland.

"If I was a player I'd be excited about being given an opportunity like that."

Following last week's 21-16 defeat in France, Gatland has rung the changes for the trip to Rome's Stadio Flaminio.

Skipper Ryan Jones is dropped to the bench alongside Wales regulars fly-half Stephen Jones, scrum-half Mike Phillips, centre Tom Shanklin and prop Gethin Jenkins.

I'd hate to feel that I'm picking a side and being conservative because I was worried about the the potential to criticised by the public or, more importantly, by the press

Wales coach Warren Gatland

Gavin Henson is paired with Jamie Roberts in the centre, while fly-half James Hook and scrum-half Dwayne Peel are half-back partners.

Scarlets flyer Mark Jones replaces young Leigh Halfpenny on the wing.

The 23-year-old lock Alun Wyn Jones is awarded the captaincy, while Ian Gough is replaced as Jones' second-row partner by Luke Charteris.

Wales' front row has been completely overhauled, while in the back row squad captain Ryan Jones is replaced by fit-again Jonathan Thomas at blind-side flanker and Dafydd Jones is in for rested open-side flanker Martyn Williams.

"Some people may argue that the back line is stronger than the one we played in France," Gatland told BBC Sport.

"And if that is the case, then great as it puts pressure on the current incumbents and puts pressure on me and the coaching team for selection against Ireland, which is still a Triple Crown game.

Jones focused on Six Nations glory

"While we can no longer win the Grand Slam, we still have a chance to win the Six Nations championship and the Triple Crown."

Whatever happens in Rome, Wales will be going for the Triple Crown in the 21 March finale in Cardiff against Ireland.

If the unbeaten Irish win in Scotland next weekend, they will be going for the second Grand Slam in their history when they face Wales.

But Gatland's side can still retain the Six Nations title by winning their last two games and the Kiwi coach says he has picked a side he expects to begin that process in Rome.

"Look at the back line, I'd think that's pretty exciting and experienced with an experienced half-back pairing, a big midfield and an experienced back three," Gatland said.

"And I have picked probably the biggest forward pack Wales can put out."

The Italians are widely acknowledged as the weakest team in the Six Nations, although Wales' record in Rome is not without its upsets.

Italy are renowned for their powerful forwards but their back line is considered as their weak link.

So looking at a Wales line-up that includes Henson, Hook, the impressive Roberts, Lee Byrne and IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams, the Azzurri could be forgiven for being worried.

Yet due to the number of changes in the aftermath of Gatland's first Six Nations defeat as Wales coach - and Wales' first Six Nations loss for nine games - the Kiwi has been accused of disrespecting the Italians.

But Gatland insists: "The coaching team would have made this many changes if we had won in Paris.

"The difficult decision after having lost in France was do we be conservative in our selection for the Italy game and limit the amount of criticism that comes our way.

"Or do we have the confidence and belief that we're developing some strength in depth in this squad and we must give these players a chance. We decided on the latter.

"This squad has worked hard developing in the last 15 months creating depth and if we want to be one of the best teams in the world, this is what we have to do.

"The All Blacks regularly change their team and, no disrespect to Italy, we are developing some depth and self-belief that if we do make changes the team can still go out and get a result.

"In fact it may improve performances because the players that are coming in are excited about the opportunity they've been given.

"As a coach you put yourself under a bit of pressure and make pretty bold selections and there's potential for criticism.

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"Very much like my first game in charge when I picked 13 Ospreys against England.

"However, I'm the job to make bold decisions and sometimes take risks, sometimes it doesn't work but that is why I get paid a reasonable amount of money.

"I have been around long enough to have that courage and the self-belief to be able make tough decisions.

"I'd hate to feel that I'm picking a side and being conservative because I was worried about the the potential to criticised by the public or, more importantly, by the press."

Gatland was disappointed by Wales' loss in France, the defeat that derailed his hopes of winning back-to-back Grand Slams.

He was especially frustrated in the manner of the defeat as Gatland said his team contributed to their own downfall.

But the coach now hopes to take a positive from that Friday night negative: "Sometimes you need a loss to help you learn and it will make us better going forward."


Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Mark Jones (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Gavin Henson (Ospreys), Shane Williams (Ospreys); James Hook (Ospreys), Dwayne Peel (Sale); John Yapp (Blues), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Rhys Thomas (Dragons), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (capt, Ospreys), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), Andy Powell (Blues).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Bradley Davies (Blues), Ryan Jones (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Ospreys), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Tom Shanklin (Blues).



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see also
Lock Jones handed Wales captaincy
05 Mar 09 |  Welsh
Jones revels in captaincy honour
05 Mar 09 |  Welsh
Full-back Masi handed Italy call
03 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
France 21-16 Wales
27 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
Coming up next on Scrum V...
27 Oct 08 |  Welsh


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