Analysis: How Wales and Italy are tackling their centre conundrums

While Wales will have eyes on a second straight Grand Slam, Italy will be looking for a first win in the Guinness Six Nations since 2015.

While Wales will have eyes on a second straight Grand Slam, Italy will be looking for a first win in the Guinness Six Nations since 2015.

The two sides will launch this year’s Championship at the Principality Stadium on Saturday (2.15pm) with aspirations that are very different yet start the competition with the same issue.

That problem lies in midfield – and both teams have come up with contrasting formulas in a bid to crack their centre conundrums.

Wayne Pivac has opted to hand wing George North the No.13 jersey whereas Franco Smith has moved fly-half Carlo Canna to inside centre.

These changes have been enforced through injury with Italy missing the influential Michele Campagnaro and Wales without the talented Jonathan Davies but will add an interesting dynamic to this opening-day tussle.

Scarlets’ Davies has been a mainstay in Wales’ midfield, racking up 81 caps in his 10-year Test career, and playing a central role in his nation’s 2019 success.

But the 31-year-old underwent knee surgery following the 2019 World Cup and remains sidelined.

Added to this setback, Ospreys’ Owen Watkin and Cardiff Blues’ Willis Halaholo went under the knife to fix knee issues.

It led Pivac to call upon Saracens’ Nick Tompkins for the first time while wing Josh Adams was seen as an option at centre after a cameo against Barbarians in November.

But North has been given the nod to start against Italy.

Out wide, North, who stands at 6ft 4in and weighs 17 stone, has proven hard to stop when he gets his hands on the ball.

Moving into midfield, the British & Irish Lions star is expected to inflict just as much damage as he looks to put Wales on the front foot.

North is also no stranger to that position having made four Test appearances there – the latest of those coming in the 22-20 win over South Africa in Washington DC in 2018.

Alongside the powerful Hadleigh Parkes, the pair are set to pack a punch.

But with Adams and the uncapped Johnny McNicholl desperate to get involved, a lot of pressure will fall on fly-half Dan Bigger to release the wingers.

Contrastingly, Italy have gone with two playmakers with Tommaso Allan and Canna forming a creative 10-12 axis.

The Azzurri were rocked by the injury to Campagnaro who damaged his knee in Harlequins’ draw with Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in late December.

Unlike Pivac, Smith is not short options with Alberto Sgarbi, Tommaso Benvenuti, Tommaso Boni and Giulio Bisegni all able to step into the breach.

But Smith who replaced Conor O’Shea as Italy boss in November went with Canna – a player that has spent most of his career pulling the strings at stand-off.

Canna has come off the bench to feature three times at centre for Italy – including his debut against Scotland in 2015.

But the Zebre player has never started there at international level so it will be a step into the unknown when he runs out with No.12 on his back.

Canna, partnering Luca Morisi in midfield, will hope to get Italy’s attack flowing.

But with a slighter build than both Parkes and North Wales will look to impose their superior physicality as they aim to get their defence of the Championship off to a winning start.