Wales cruise past Italy
March 20, 2010
Stephen Jones kicked 18 points for Wales
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Wales finished a mixed Six Nations on a high by cruising to a 33-10 victory over Italy at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Warren Gatland's under-pressure side bounced back from a poor showing against Ireland in Dublin last weekend with three second-half tries, two to outside-centre James Hook and one to wing Shane Williams. Fly-half Stephen Jones slotted 18 points in a masterful all-round display while, pleasingly for Gatland and his coaching staff, Wales were able to right the wrongs of their lineout.
Fullback Luke McLean scored a consolation try for Italy in the dying minutes but the Azzurri were never genuinely in danger of adding a second victory to their Rome triumph over Scotland.
Teenaged winger Tom Prydie became the youngest Welsh international of all time with a start out wide while recalled British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips provided spark and tempo. In the pack, Cardiff Blues openside Sam Warburton tormented Italy at the breakdown, having been given the nod ahead of Martyn Williams, and Gethin Jenkins returned to add his work-rate to the front-row. Skipper Ryan Jones was also a welcome return at No.8 following a calf problem.
Italy's preparations were not helped by injuries in the build-up to Paul Derbyshire and Carlo del Fava. They were joined on the treatment table by Andrea Masi, allowing Gonazalo Canale to retain his place in midfield.
Italy made a bright start after being gifted possession by a loose clearance from Lee Byrne, with Prydie's first action in international rugby a desperate tackle after Canale had punched a hole in the Welsh defence along the short-side. Craig Gower sent a wonky drop-goal wide of the uprights, allowing Wales to get out of their 22.
Canale was forced from the field after only three minutes, being replaced by Matteo Pratichetti, and Italy showed further impatience through Mauro Bergamasco's hack through, which went out on the full. Wales' first lineout win was greeted by warm, ironic applause and Prydie showed a nice touch in chipping over the Italian cover following some slick midfield handling by Warburton. Kaine Robertson's knock-on gifted Wales possession and after quick ball from Phillips Italy were penalised, Jones slotting a simple kick.
Mirco Bergamasco missed a chance to level the scores after Jones entered a ruck from the side and Wales were hit by the early loss of lock Bradley Davies to injury. Wales reined in their urge to go wide and used strong support play from the pack to draw in the Italian midfield, Williams eventually sending a probing kick in behind McLean, who could only hack it out of play. Wales piled the pressure on but got little change out of the Italian defence, who maintained their composure and shape on their own try-line.
Jones continued to pick the gap between Bergamasco and his fly-half Gower and one such surge brought the second penalty of the half, which the Scarlets veteran sent through the uprights. Phillips then tore through the Italian line from a quick tap, recalling his bursts against France in 2006, but again Italy were able to snuff out the Welsh attack as they edged closer to the try-line.
Byrne was inches away from the opening try after latching onto a well-judged chip from Williams and saw a try chalked off for a forward pass after multiple phases battering at the Italian line. Hook was next to threaten the Italian line after bursting into a half-gap and kicking ahead. He beat McLean for pace but the ball skittled into the path of Bergamasco, who was able to tidy up.
Wales began the second-half with more possession but Italy were able to grind out a scrum penalty just inside their own half and cleared long. Their pack crashed the ball up with their trademark intensity but were burgled at the breakdown, allowing Phillips to spark another breakout. Warburton provided the link and sent Williams hurtling into space but again Wales were unable to capitalise as the ball was kicked away.
Some greedy play from Hook deprived Wales, and Prydie, of the first try. The Ospreys utility powered through a gap and handed off Gonzalo Garcia but rather than fix the final defender and give the ball to his wing he opted to go it alone and lost the ball when offloading. Luckily for Hook he had to wait only moments to get his name on the scoresheet. After Luke Charteris had charged down an Italian clearance Wales shipped the ball wide from the scrum, with Hook exploiting a poor tackle from Tito Tebaldi to power over in the corner.
Italy's predicament became infinitely worse when Mauro Bergamasco was shown yellow for blatantly coming in at the side, rounding of a trio of Italian penalties given away cynically close to their own line. Wales pounced immediately from a quick-tap as Jones again orchestrated play, drawing the Italian midfield before finding a choice offload for Hook to score his second.
Bergamasco got Italy on the board with a penalty after a second set-to with Phillips but Wales hit back once again. Byrne was the architect, tearing through the Italian midfield from deep. Tom Shanklin was on his shoulder and the Blues centre timed his pass well to set Phillips on a run to the line. The recently-returned scrum-half was hauled in by the two Italian wings but Williams was on hand to dive over from close range.
The final try went to McLean, who exploited a slip by Byrne to step his way over under the posts, but he could do little to dampen Welsh spirits.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery