Wales skipper returns ahead of World Cup

Sam Warburton will heave a sigh of relief when he returns to captain Wales in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game against Italy in Cardiff on Saturday.

Warburton missed both games against Ireland last month following a shoulder injury that threatened to rule him out of the tournament.

The British and Irish Lions skipper damaged nerves in his shoulder during a full-contact training session and for two days feared the blow would sideline him from the World Cup.

However, the openside flanker has recovered to resume his role with the captain’s armband against the Azzurri at the Millennium Stadium.

It’s the same home venue where Wales will return in a fortnight for their opening game of the World Cup against Pool A minnows Uruguay ahead of the looming monster clashes with Australia and England as the “pool of death” teams including Fiji slug it out for two quarter-final berths.

“This is the final dress rehearsal before the World Cup so it’s important for some fine-turning and to carry some momentum into the tournament,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

“We were happy with the performance away in Ireland last weekend (Wales beat the Six Nations champions 16-10 in Dublin), but there were still a few signs of rustiness, so we thought another 60 minutes for some of them would help,” he added.

“We wanted to see the back three together again and there are also a few guys like Sam and Cory Allen who need a game after injuries,” the New Zealander explained.

“For a few of the forwards, it’s also a chance to redeem themselves for the first game against Ireland (which Wales lost 35-21 in Cardiff).”

“The return of Warburton coincides with the recall of centre Allen, also from a shoulder injury, for his first Test appearance in 10 months.

Meanwhile there was further positive news for Wales with prop Samson Lee and wing Liam Williams both back to full fitness after long-term injuries.

“From a medical point of view this is the best condition the squad has been in for six weeks,” said Gatland, who guided Wales to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Wales racked up a record victory in their most recent encounter with the Azzurri, although a 61-20 win in Rome fell just short of snatching the Six Nations title on a dramatic final day of the Championship in March.

Gatland said: “Italy is always a tough side to play against and they have picked their strongest team of the campaign.

“Our emphasis is on discipline and sending a message to the referees, especially at the scrum, that we are approaching the game in a positive way.

“We know in the (World Cup pool) games against England and Australia, we cannot afford to give away penalties because the games are going to be so close.”

Italy also see their captain back in the ranks, with Sergio Parisse returning after missing their first two warm-up games against Scotland.

Scrum-half Edoardo Gori is back from suspension while experienced centre Andrea Masi comes in to a near full-strength Italian side that includes new flanker Simone Favaro of Celtic League champions Glasgow.

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