Rugby World Cup in France just six months away

Rugby World Cup in France just six months away

Not so long ago, a trip to Italy during the Six Nations campaign was a welcome fixture for Wales.

It was an opportunity to recover from or prepare for bigger battles elsewhere, to stretch their legs, and to bump up the points tally. However, this year, the situation is different.

The Italians are the favourites as Warren Gatland’s side heads to Rome seeking redemption.

Last year, Wales was humiliated in Cardiff and had a horrendous start to their Six Nations campaign, their worst since 2007.

The performances on the field mirrored the chaos and uncertainty off it, making it hard to imagine how this year’s championship could have gone worse for Wales.

The opening-day disaster at home to Ireland was followed by a hammering at Murrayfield before England outmuscled and overran them at the Principality Stadium.

The unfortunate truth is that a first Six Nations whitewash in 20 years is now a possibility, with the Rugby World Cup in France just six months away.

While restoring pride will undoubtedly be on the players’ minds after the last-gasp 21-22 defeat to Italy 12 months ago, there is so much more on the line for Wales when they run out at the Stadio Olimpico this weekend.

They look to avoid an unwanted record and take the first step on what will be a very long road to recovery.

Gatland admits that avoiding the Wooden Spoon is their top priority. Finishing last in the championship table is something they want to avoid.

Winning in Rome will hopefully spare them from this for another year.

However, if they lose, finishing at the bottom seems inevitable, with only reigning champions France left to play in Paris on the final weekend.

A loss to Italy will also consign Gatland’s side to their worst-ever position in the world rankings.

Wales dropped to their joint-lowest ever ranking of 10th after the England defeat, and a defeat against Italy would see them drop to an all-time low of 11th.

If Wales loses by more than 15 points against the Azzurri, they would drop to 13th place.

If they finish last, the WRU will miss out on a Six Nations prize money windfall, and the financial consequences will be significant.

Welsh rugby is already in a financial crisis, with player wages and regional budgets set to be dramatically slashed next season.

Any revenue the WRU makes at the Test level goes into the central pot.

Anything left over after money spent on overheads and the £11.5m which is ringfenced for community clubs is spent on the professional game.

With so much at stake, the importance of Saturday’s game in Rome cannot be overstated.

Winning will keep their heads above water, but losing will cause the sinking ship to plunge to new depths.

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