It has been a long decade for match-going Italy fans. The faithful thousands who have snapped up Six Nations tickets year on year have had little to cheer, underlined by the approach of an unhappy anniversary.

Wednesday will mark 10 years since the Azzurri last claimed a home win in the Six Nations – a 22-15 victory over Ireland in 2013.

Or will it? Italy have the chance to ensure that landmark never comes to pass today when Wales visit the Eternal City for a wooden spoon decider that home fans are approaching with rarely-seen levels of hope and expectation.

Italy have not often had reason to expect victory over a nation that has won two Six Nations titles in the last four years and boasts four Grand Slams.

But this year, things are different. The emergence of Italy’s young side as a competitive force began in 2022 with wins over Wales in Cardiff and at home to Australia in the autumn, and this year they have impressed despite defeats to France, England and Ireland. Throw into the mix a struggling, winless Welsh side that is reeling from off-pitch problems serious enough to cause the threat of a player strike ahead of their last game against England, and you could have the ingredients for a famous Italian victory. So the long-suffering Azzurri fans will hope.

The build-up to the game has been dominated by questions around how Kieran Crowley’s players will cope with the pressure of expectation. For captain Michele Lamaro, though, talk of this being like a cup final for Italy is laughable – particularly with a Super Saturday trip to Edinburgh still to come.

“Clearly from the outside it’s seen as like a final, but it isn’t for me, we’ve got another game against Scotland a week later,” Lamaro says.

“After a final, you have won or lost, it’s the end. But that’s not the case here. Of course, there is a bit more pressure, but there has been for the whole tournament. Ever since we beat Australia – there was pressure before the game against South Africa to repeat a performance of a high level [they lost 63-21 to the Springboks in November]. Before the Six Nations there was a lot of expectation, we had pressure on us before the first game against France.

“There has been pressure since we started playing good rugby and being competitive at this level. But the approach will be the same.”

The final point is one Lamaro was keen to drive home. No matter how big an opportunity today’s game represents for his side, they are determined not to veer off the road that has seen them take big strides forward over the last 12 months.

“Honestly nothing changes with the approach. During the week we’ve prepared for it like any other game,” adds the flanker. “We have our process, we know that we have to prepare well to be ready when we go out on the pitch.

“The perception around this game has certainly changed. We know that we must raise our level and put in an exceptional performance to earn it. To do that we must continue doing exactly what we have done up until now.”

Crowley has not been tempted to tinker with his team, making just one change to the side that pushed world No.1 side Ireland in such impressive fashion two weeks ago. The change is a significant one, however. Full-back Ange Capuozzo has been the man most capable of sprinkling attacking stardust into Italy’s performances since bursting on to the scene by setting up a last-gasp winning try in Cardiff last year with a slaloming run through the Welsh defence.

The Toulouse star injured his shoulder against Ireland and has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament, with Tommaso Allan of Harlequins taking the No.15 jersey for his 70th Azzurri cap.

Allan, who started the first two rounds of the Six Nations at fly-half, brings a degree of experience that far exceeds the rest of the squad, with no other player in Italy’s 23-man squad yet to reach the 50-cap mark.

“Ange has always supported our way of playing. He’s a fantastic player with a unique spark,” Lamaro says. “But Tommy has a lot of experience, precision and consistency and that can give us a big hand at the back. The identity of this group is coming to the fore, beyond individuals.”

Italy go into the game with one losing bonus point, while Wales are yet to get any on the board after losing to Ireland, Scotland and England.

With the prospect of dodging the wooden spoon for the first time since 2015 at stake, Lamaro has been hard at work identifying both where Wales are dangerous and where his own team can improve.

“They will want to grind us down physically, we must be ready to respond in kind,” says the Benetton forward. “Especially in the breakdown and in situations where they can punish us. They will try to make it difficult for us and slow down our ball. We will have to be strong in order to counter that.

“In the first three games we haven’t performed well in the first 30 minutes, we have always been forced to chase the game. Despite that we have never given up or taken a step backwards, and this has allowed us to stay in touch in games. But we want to avoid conceding at the start.”