Italy earn richly deserved draw
March 11, 2006
Pablo Canavosio celebrates his try that levelled the scores in Cardiff
© Getty Images
Italy escaped defeat on the road for the first time in seven seasons and 18 away trips since they joined the Six Nations championship with a richly deserved draw at the Millennium Stadium.
And the Italians will feel that they might have won had they taken their chances in the first 10 minutes of the second half as the efforts of their forwards combined with the astutely controlled box kicking of scrum-half Paul Griffen gave them a clear ascendancy.
Outside-half Ramiro Pez was offered three kickable chances, but landed only one of them to edge Italy into an 18-15 lead. And Wales were distinctly fortunate that the offence that led to the one Pez landed - Lee Byrne taking out Mirco Bergamasco as the Italian centre chased his kick ahead - did not also produce a yellow card.
Trailing by only three points rather than the nine it might have been, it was always likely that Wales would get a chance to level, which they did after 58 minutes when referee Joel Jutge ruled that Italy had taken a scrum down. Steve Jones was on target from 40 metres, the closest Wales had been up to that point in the half. Neither of the competition's two poorest last quarter sides could manage a score in a final 20 minutes played almost entirely between the two 22 metre lines.
Still, somebody at the Millennium Stadium has a sense of reality reflected in the playing of 'Things Can Only Get Better' over the public address as a disgruntled crowd, many of whom booed at the end of an insipidly error-ridden performance, cleared the stadium. Wales , contemplating the manner in which ill-luck with injuries has been compounded this season by self-destruction, can only hope so.
Wales had threatened at times to overwhelm Italy during an open, if untidy, first-half yet somehow contrived to go in at the break with the scores level at 15-15. They had suffered the serious early blow of losing scrum-half Dwayne Peel - by far their best player so far this season - with injuries to his ankle and shoulder after eight minutes, but still established an early ascendancy. Stephen Jones landed a fourth minute penalty, then his Scarlets namesake Mark crossed five minutes later on the right after Shane Williams had moved from left-wing to right-centre, undetected by dozing Italian defenders, to enter the line at an angle and create the overlap for Jones to score. Steve Jones missed the conversion.
Italy 's response was rapid and spirited. Mirco Bergamasco sliced through on the right and only the corner-flagging of Hal Luscombe stopped Pablo Canavosio scoring in the corner. Wales botched the ensuing line-out and Sergio Parisse was desperately close to crossing before Italy moved rapidly to the left and debutant full-back Ezio Galon slid over, but appeared to cross the deadball line before he touched down. After a long hiatus video ref Eric Darriere said no television angle gave a conclusive verdict and the try was given.
Even so this seemed only an interruption in the pattern of Welsh dominance. Steve Jones crossed in the 23rd minute after a quick tap penalty by Phillips and this time landed the conversion via the post.
Had Hal Luscombe managed to finish a 60 yard kick and chase instead of being beaten to the touch-down by Bergamasco six minutes later Wales might have taken complete control. Instead the Italians began making better use of their tactical kicking game to improve field position and came back fiercely in the final stages of the half. Ramiro Pez landed a short-range penalty after superb handwork from lock Santiago Dellape had created space for the lively Gonzalo Canale, then Canavosio intercepted a Matthew Watkins pass near his own 22 and ran a superb curving line to ensure that no Welshmen got near him before he crossed. Pez landed the conversion and it was all square at the break.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards
They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland