By Rhys Thomas
The penultimate round of this year’s Six Nations came to an end with a routine Welsh victory over Italy in Cardiff.
The first score came only five minutes in as a result of some comical Italian defending. An inauspicious backs move led to Hadleigh Parkes bouncing off defenders to stroll over, only serving to heighten the suspicion that this was going to be a long afternoon for the Azzuri.
Another try was added within the next couple of minutes, this time from long range. Owen Watkin intercepted a pass and used his pace to race up the field, feeding George North who had little problem in finishing off the move to touch down.
This was a test of Italy’s resolve, and initially they stood up to the challenge. Within minutes they won a lineout deep in Welsh territory before moving the ball to the other side of the field, where full-back Matteo Minozzi danced around both Liam Williams and Gareth Davies to score in the corner.
The only score for the rest of the half was a simple Gareth Anscombe penalty, but Wales did come closest to scoring a try. Scrum-half Davies picked up a deft curved chip from wing Steff Evans to go over, but the TMO ruled it out for offside.
For the remainder of the half it was the visitors who showed quality in attack, whilst Wales were unable to display the free-flowing rugby that they have been trying to develop during this tournament. The half was rounded off by a real cheap-shot tackle from Liam Williams on Minozzi, with the Saracens player receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
Italy’s one-man advantage for the first part of the second-half did not pay dividends, and the first score after the break went to the men in red. Second-row Cory Hill meandered through a gap created when a George North burst sucked defenders in, and the home side appeared to grow in confidence.
Wales were briefly down to thirteen men when Gareth Davies was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on, sneakily sticking his hand out whilst making a tackle. This ill-discipline had been evident throughout the match and would have cost them against better opposition, but Wales were strong enough to hold out despite the sin-binnings.
Things slowed down as the substitutions started to make their appearances – the stop-start nature of the match frustrated players and supporters alike, but suited the Welsh just fine as they held onto their healthy lead.
Things perked up when Wales thought they had scored their bonus-point try with Parkes burying over but the TMO disagreed, deciding that the ball was held up – much to the chagrin of the home crowd. They didn’t have to wait too long though for their deserved bonus-point though, with substitute Rhys Patchell skilfully sucking in two defenders and offloading to North who easily went over for his second score of the afternoon.
The good times continued for the Cardiff crowd when Justin Tipuric dove in at the corner, Parkes’ floated pass dropping perfectly for the flanker. Leigh Halfpenny’s fresh legs knocked over an impressive touchline conversion as Italy’s traditional late-quarter capitulation continued apace.
The last word however went to Italy with a late consolation try. An impressively won turnover and some quick hands got the ball to Carlo Canna, whose long pass cut out the remaining Welsh defenders for Mattia Bellini to score.
It was a comfortable victory for Wales, and disappointing for Italy considering their hardy display in the first-half. Italian performances rarely seem to deviate from the set script, and Conor O’Shea has a tough job to get them performing for the whole eighty minutes. On the other side, Warren Gatland will be pleased that his charges secured victory with ease especially with ten team changes, but he knows that France next week will be an altogether tougher test.
Final Score: Wales 38-14 Italy
Official Man of the Match: Hadleigh Parks