Wales building brick by brick
February 26, 2011
Wales' Craig Mitchell is shackled by the Italian defence © PA Photos
Wales are two from two, which is an unfamiliar position for Warren Gatland's men given their recent trials and tribulations.
Twice before men in red shirts have come out on the wrong end of a result against Italy at the Stadio Flaminio, in 2003 and 2007 (Rugby World Cup years for the superstitious among you), but with the added resolve gained from their victory over Scotland two weeks ago they dragged themselves across the line this time around, by hook or by crook.
Ireland found out in round one that there is no margin for error when playing Italy in Rome and that mistakes will be harshly punished by long spells without the ball should the home pack fire. They did just that, attacking Wales at the breakdown and scrum with a religious fervour befitting their surroundings.
Wales' errors were frequent and damaging in terms of sapping their momentum and Italy, vastly improved from the lifeless rabble routed at Twickenham, gained all the go forward they could wish for only to come undone when in striking distance. A makeshift kicker will always, at heart, be just that and Mirco Bergamasco's wastefulness from the tee prevented his side from really seeing what Wales were made of in the closing stages.
Driven on by the magnificent Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parisse, Italy asked questions of a Welsh defence that was miserly at Murrayfield, flooding the channels with abundant support off front-foot ball. They also at times made a mess of a Welsh back-row that had looked immovable at the breakdown only 14 days ago.
Their eternal issue remains a lack of creativity and while they created plenty of gaps with brute force, a smattering of guile could have seen them make similar dents as Wales did in the opening stages with two excellent tries. Kris Burton, recalled in place of the flighty Luciano Orquera at fly-half, enjoyed a good game with the boot but lacked the precision to make the most of his side's ample support running.
With Craig Gower, a distributor with an international pedigree in rugby league, nearing a comeback from knee surgery, the trade-off between a watertight kicking game and the ability to make the most of a palpable improvement in attacking organisation may soon swing the way of the naturalised Australian.
Away from the kicking tee, the main difference between the sides came with two flashes of brilliance from the visitors. Theirs was a mixed display and one that on another day could have cost them, but for the mastery of space shown by Shane Williams and James Hook. Both Welsh tries showed their ability, when the mood takes them, to attack with pace from deep and to use their strike runners properly, even if elsewhere their execution was poor.
A major issue for the coaching staff before a huge home clash with Ireland in a couple of weeks' time is their profligate kicking game, which failed completely to reduce any pressure in the second half. Hook and Lee Byrne both enjoyed strong games with ball in hand but often kicked aimlessly, with the former's lack of control an issue given his impending switch back to fly-half upon Jonathan Davies' return to fitness. Words will also pass between the coaching staff and forwards after a slipshod display at the restart and when dealing with numerous kicks over the top from Burton.
Among the poor kicks and errors, however, there was a defensive display driven by the bite and discipline that characterised Wales sides in first year of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards' reign. They also showed arguably the second half's sole moment of clinical play, namely Hook's late drop-goal to finally draw the sting from the Italian pressure.
A return to the Millennium Stadium will be welcome and with some fans and commentators already predicting a Welsh Championship from behind knowing smirks, two from two is not such a bad place to be after the doom and gloom precipitated by their opening round loss to England. For Italy, France are in town. As ever, they'll be welcomed heartily with a few choice collisions.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.