TEIFI Valley rugby star Gareth Davies will return to Wales’ starting line-up as they bid to stay on track for the Grand Slam in Italy on Saturday.

The Newcastle Emlyn man will replace injured Scarlets’ team-mate Kieran Hardy at scrum-half in Rome, before travelling to play France seven days later.

Davies, a former pupil at Ysgol Dyffryn Teifi in Llandysul, has been capped 60 times for Wales, played in two World Cups, and played in all five games when Wales won the Grand Slam two years ago.

Remarkably, Davies could come up against another Welsh speaker in scrum-half Stephen Varney, a former pupil at Ysgol y Preseli in Crymych, who plays for his mother’s home country of Italy.

Even more astonishing is the fact that Varney’s aunty, his mother’s sister, is married to Davies’ mother’s second cousin - and the two number nines also faced each other last Autumn.

“Italy play some good rugby and they have got some great individual talent in their back-line," said Davies. "They do look dangerous, so our defensive roles are going to have to be spot on.

“The team Wayne (Pivac) has picked for this week shows them a lot of respect. We have broken the record for the amount of caps we have named.

"It won’t be an easy challenge, I'm sure it will be a tough game for us, but hopefully one we can come out on top of.”

He added: “The weather will be quite nice, we haven’t had that temperature over here for a while. I can’t remember the last time I played in a dry game with the sun shining.

“So we are looking forward to that and hopefully it will give us a chance to play a bit of rugby, chuck the ball around, and hopefully score some tries.”

With Hardy injured, and Tomos Williams not yet fit to return after suffering a hamstring injury of his own against Ireland, Davies starts against Italy with Lloyd Williams on the bench.

“Kieran Hardy was outstanding last week against England, and was unfortunate to pick up that little hamstring injury,” said 30 year-old Davies.

“I feel like there’s a bit of pressure on me to perform as well as he did. It’s about doing the basics right, managing the game well, playing in the right areas, and bringing as much tempo as possible. It’s good to be back in the starting XV.

“Throughout my whole career there has always been a lot of competition for the scrum-half jersey so I am used to it. I’ve always said it’s healthy as a player.

“It’s only a good thing for the squad to have so much competition. It keeps us all on our toes.”

Meanwhile Wales head coach Pivac has backed his most experienced scrum-half to impress against the Azzurri.

"Gareth came off the bench in the last match and has been in the top two since Tomos was injured, so we have stuck with Gareth,” said Pivac.

"He has got a couple of things in his game he is working on - speed to the breakdown is one with all our nines, we want to move ball and get it away from the breakdown areas quickly."

The only other changes to the Wales side will see lock Corey Hill rewarded for his try-scoring replacement appearance against England with a starting position.

The rested Adam Beard drops out of the squad, while Lloyd Williams and Jake Ball have been named as replacements.

Ball will win his 50th cap if he comes off the bench, with Hill selected alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones as Beard is omitted.

"Adam has had a pretty big workload in camp and he was a bit banged up, so we are giving him a break this week, he will come to Rome with us, but won't be in the 23,” said Pivac.

Wales will take on Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome on Saturday (March 13). Kick-off is 2.15pm GMT.