Wales' opening game of the 2003 RBS 6 Nations in Italy is an intriguing prospect. On paper it would seem to be the ideal game to begin with but in reality it has the potential to be either the best of starts or the worst of starts.
If Wales are to have a good tournament then it is a match they must win as it goes without saying that the games get harder after this one. A defeat in Rome would make the rest of the tournament seem very long and very arduous because with due respect to Italy, they are still the weakest of the competing teams.
There is no question that Wales are expected to win but that expectation, as Scotland discovered a few years back, is becoming more difficult to fulfil as the Italians continue to improve. They are benefiting enormously from their involvement in European club rugby and the 6 Nations, and John Kirwan's side are getting better and better.
Whatever the expectation, Wales need a victory.
The primary concern at the moment is the number of injuries to key Welsh players which has badly affected Steve Hansen's squad. Fly-half Stephen Jones has been in fine form with Llanelli and will be sorely missed, as will the experience and robust approach of Robin McBryde. His absence, however, gives Pontypridd hooker Mefin Davies a chance to stake his claim for a regular place and he has been very consistent over the last couple of years.
The major surprise is the inclusion of Michael Owen in the back row ahead of Dafydd Jones. I think the reason for the decision is that Wales want another ball carrier to support Colin Charvis. Scott Quinnell was excellent at that and his retirement means Charvis needs someone else alongside him. Owen is also very good in the line-out and I think this is a case of horses for courses.
Hansen will want a solid platform from his front five but I feel that Wales have to exploit their pace on the wings by winning quick ball from the breakdowns. This is essential because Italy will do their utmost to slow the game down at every opportunity. If Diego Dominguez plays it will be a big lift for the Italians because he is a fine tactician and a clinical goal kicker.
Italy's problem has often been a lack of discipline and it will be interesting to see if they have learned their lesson. They tend to give away too many penalties and it has cost them dear in previous matches. It is something Wales must take advantage of if they get the chance.
The Welsh public will accept any type of victory because Rome is not an easy place to win. I'm confident that this Welsh team is good enough to win but not by a big margin. Externally, they will be delighted to beat Italy, but there's another level to that because internally they can only be happy if the performance is convincing.