1. ITV Report

Wales to take on Italy as Six Nations title defence begins

Wales' George North avoids a challenge during last year's match Photo: PA

Wales begin the defence of their Six Nations title against Italy at the Millennium Stadium this afternoon, as the tournament kicks off in the Welsh capital for the second year running.

Warren Gatland's side will be hoping for a better start this year, after a disastrous first half in last year's opener against Ireland saw Wales trailing 23-3.

Wales famously put their slow start behind them and went on to win the title, beating England 30-3 in the championship decider.

Should Wales win this year's RBS Six Nations, they would become the first country to win three titles in a row.

Wales won the 2013 Six Nations after a 30-3 win against England Credit: PA

The reigning champions head into this year's tournament with just one defeat in their last 10 Six Nations games and have only lost to today's opponents twice, in 2003 and 2007; the 2006 contest ended in a draw.

But Wales hooker Richard Hibbard isn't underestimating the challenge posed by the Italians.

"We want to go out, do our best and really get our show on the road and let everyone stand back and think 'Wales are here'," he said.

Hooker Richard Hibbard is preparing for a physical test against Italy Credit: PA

"I am excited about the start, but it will be a tough physical game.

"The Italian pack is extremely experienced. They have been around the block a few times, and they have their talisman (captain Sergio Parisse) back, which is key for them."

But Hibbard says Wales can't afford to have the bad start they suffered at the hands of Ireland last year.

"We had one bad half in the entire tournament last year, so we definitely can't start like that again," he added.

"It was an accumulation of things last year. We had lost seven games on the bounce and there was a lot of pressure building. But after that (Ireland game) we didn't concede another try for the rest of the tournament.

Wales suffered defeat at the hands of Ireland in the 2013 opening match Credit: PA

"We had the conversation last week (about a possible title hat-trick). We addressed it.

"We could become one of the greatest teams of all, and I think it is do-able. With the squad we have got here, it is definitely possible. The boys are really excited by the challenge.

"I think all the northern-hemisphere teams can take something from the autumn Tests this season, They all did pretty well, but the Six Nations is different again. It is a tournament, and you have to win."

WALES TEAM

Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), George North (Northampton Saints), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Paul James (Bath Rugby), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Alun-Wyn Jones (Captain – Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Liam Williams (Scarlets).

More on this story