CHRIS KIRWAN: Wales must show a cutting edge right from the off
10:02am Thursday 30th January 2014 in Sport
IT was a home encounter against Italy that proved so crucial in deciding the destination of the 2013 Six Nations title.
A spluttering performance against the Azzurri at Twickenham, with the visitors unlucky to lose 18-11, meant that England headed over the Severn Bridge with the championship in the balance.
Had they put the Italians to the sword then Wales, who needed to win by seven points or more in the finale, would have found it hard to be going for a third successive title on Saturday.
Saturday's opener against Italy is a curious one for Warren Gatland's men, who last year were left to rue a sloppy start against Ireland that ended their Grand Slam and Triple Crown hopes.
In some ways – and the media and supporters, unlike the players are allowed to be so dismissive – it is almost a pre-season friendly and Wales will get off to a winning start.
But in what could prove to be a tight tussle for top spot with England, France and Ireland they could do with showing some panache.
Wales face a pair of tough trips to Dublin and London this year, so a comprehensive success against the Italians would give them some breathing space to keep the campaign well and truly alive if they were to slip up.
Not that the squad will be stating that is the case – they will respect Italy and will not be talking of racking up the tries, at least not publicly.
But Wales will be looking to exceed their average of 32 points scored against the Italians in order to send an early statement of intent... and not only to their northern hemisphere rivals.
In truth Wales are playing to merely maintain their reputation.
Sure, it would be a statement to win a third title on the spin but they are already the kings of Europe.
Only beating the southern hemisphere big guns can enhance their standing in the world game and triumphing in the Six Nations is unlikely to make New Zealand, Australia and South Africa sit up and take notice.
But perhaps they will make a few waves by showing some flair over the coming weeks, some finesse to go with the sledgehammer approach that has served them so well.
The 30-3 win against England was at odds with much of the rugby that Wales played in the 2013 tournament and a more cutting, clinical edge is needed ahead of a summer tour to South Africa.
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