Hibbard keen to seize chance
Richard Hibbard will start his second successive Test for the first time in his career on Saturday - more than six years since his Wales debut.
Ospreys hooker Hibbard first featured on the international scene as a 22-year-old when Wales toured Argentina in 2006.
But it has taken him until this week to be selected in the starting line-up for two successive Tests, having played second, third and even fourth fiddle behind players like Matthew Rees, Huw Bennett, Rhys Williams and Gareth Williams.
Hibbard and his colleagues were retained en bloc for this weekend's Six Nations appointment with Italy after their heroics against France in Paris 12 days ago.
And with the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia now little more than three months away, 29-year-old Hibbard is in a position to make his presence felt.
"It has been a long road, not very smooth," he said.
"I just want to take my opportunities and show that I can do what I do at regional level at this level and keep the spot.
"I feel a bit more broken with the body (than in 2006), but I am the same type of player, I think.
"There have been ups and downs along the way, normally with my weight! But it is starting to go well at the moment."
Hibbard has had more than his fair share of injury setbacks, missing the 2011 World Cup due to ankle ligament damage and then seeing a shoulder problem wreck hopes that he might have started autumn Tests against New Zealand and Australia this season.
The shoulder injury, suffered while on Wales duty against Samoa three months ago, causes a shudder just by listening to him talk about it.
"He (Samoa player) hit me so hard that I felt it on the other side of my body," Hibbard added. "He really caught me a treat.
"It's definitely up there with the biggest hits I have taken. It felt as though I had been hit by a car. It was a massive hit, and a couple of the other ones hit me later on, which didn't help.
"The intensity of the collisions seems to go up every year. People just seem to get bigger and faster, and they hit you a hell of a lot harder.
"It's a relentless game now - you are getting battered and battered week after week."
Hibbard's durability over the next few weeks will be crucial to a Wales team that clawed its way back into Six Nations title contention by beating France.
Scotland and England are looming on Wales' agenda next month, but carrying out an effective Italian job is the only matter exercising Welsh minds at present.
"They have got a very good pack, just as good as the French, and that is where they build their platform," Hibbard said.
"We've got to match them, if not better them. We've got to work them for the whole 80 minutes, and it is key for us in the front-five to put a big performance in.
"I actually think we have got a very good scrum and we are not getting the rewards that we warrant.
"The away games are tougher again, with the occasion and the home fans, so you have to really fly out out of the blocks and keep the momentum up.
"The more you play well, the more pressure comes on the opposition with them being at home, and it starts to mount on them. That is exactly what we did in Paris."
Key to Welsh victory hopes at Stadio Olimpico will be the performance of fly-half Dan Biggar behind his forwards.
An authoritative and composed display in Paris, highlighted by him creating the winning try for wing George North, gained Biggar many admirers. To Biggar's Ospreys team-mate Hibbard, though, it came as no surprise.
"Dan is such a mature head on a young body," he added.
"He showed his maturity. He picked himself up and dusted himself off from the Ireland defeat and went and did an outstanding job in France.
"It shows he can actually be the main player for the number 10 shirt."