Italy 17 – 29 Wales: Resolute Wales secure bonus point Six Nations victory over Italy
Wales recorded their first 2023 Six Nations victory as they produced a confidence-boosting 29-17 victory against Italy at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico to end a run of 12 defeats in their previous 15 internationals.
Italy (3) 17
Tries: Negri, Brex Cons: Allan(2) Pens: Allan
Wales (22) 29
Tries: Dyer, Liam Williams, Faletau, Penalty Cons: Owen Williams (2) Pens: Owen Williams
First-half tries from Rio Dyer, Liam Williams and a penalty try had done the damage in the first half as Italy were wasteful and full of indiscipline.
Sebastian Negri’s score straight after the break had threatened a comeback for the hosts, but two sin bin offences cost Italy dear as Toby Faletau put the game to bed for the Welsh midway through the second period.
Juan Ignacio Brex’s finished off a neat move to reduce the Italian’s arrears once more, but the Welsh showed fight and resilience to give coach Warren Gatland his first win in his second spell in charge.
One final match now remains against tournament holders France with a prospect of a wooden spoon averted.
Uncharacteristically, Wales had come into the match as underdogs fresh from three defeats in as many games in the campaign.
Memories of the Welsh’s fateful 22-21 loss to the Italians at Cardiff this time last year still fresh in the minds of many and keen to be avenged.
The Italian’s who had never beaten Wales under Gatland’s tenure in the previous 11 meetings between the two sides, were going to be a stern test for a side juggling the balance between the blooding of the next generation of youth with their vastly experienced compatriots.
Having run both France and then Ireland close in a 34-20 defeat just two weeks ago in the Italian capital, Kieran Crowley’s side would be a dangerous proposition with their fast-paced, energetic passing game, but were susceptible to indiscipline.
With Wales error-strewn in their 20-10 defeat against England at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium two weeks ago, Gatland knew it would be the side who would make the least mistakes that would come out on top.
There would be again plenty of opportunities for many to stake their claim for a starting role, with the former British and Irish Lions coach making six changes.
Ospreys Scrum-half Rhys Webb provided a welcome boost, returning for the first time since 2020 to produce a man of the match display, whilst there was a start for Dragon’s wing Rio Dyer, in favour of Louis Rees-Zammit who had scored Wales’ only try in Cardiff, whilst Liam Williams, Wyn Jones, Dafydd Jenkins and Jac Morgan all returned.
After a solid start to the opening, Wales took the lead for the first time in the competition through the boot of Ospreys fly-half Owen Williams, after an infringement in the ruck had produced a penalty.
With early confidence and momentum, Gatland’s side dually extended their lead minutes later. Scrum-half Webb, spotting a gap following a Welsh scrum to kick into space behind the Italian defense.
The bounce of the ball favouring a sprinting Dyer in the chase, outfoxing Pierre Bruno to score the game’s opening try in the left-hand corner.
The Italian’s looked to respond immediately with quick ball in hand as the Welsh showed glimpses of the errors that had cost them so dear in their earlier matches. Tomas Francis giving away a penalty after being penalised in the lineout.
Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan slotting over to the appreciative roar of the Azzurri support in full voice.
The Welsh though were in no mood to be stifled and scored a second try to move into breathing space. Faletau picking up the ball just inside the Italian twenty-two, before sending a pass out to the right wing to Full-back Liam Williams.
The Cardiff man, dodging several weak Italian challenges darting through for his 13th try for his country.
Italy came close to a response straight away minutes later. Juan Ignacio Brex finding himself on the Welsh try line after a swift break from Tomasso Allen had opened up the Welsh defense but was unable to ground a pass after a slick passing move.
Italy were spirited in possession but lacked a clinical edge in the final third. Defensively, much like in their previous games, would be their own worst enemy as Wales powered to a third score as the error count started to tell on the scoreboard.
The Welsh forwards forcing Lorenzo Cannone in the Italian pack to collapse a maul just shy of the Azzuri try line, leaving no option but a Wales penalty try and punishment to the sin bin for the Benetton number eight.
Wales were unable to further extend their advantage with the extra man before the break as the game became scrappy but were value in their creative execution.
It was the home side who would start stronger in the second period as Wales became sluggish. Allan running at the Welsh defense, before chipping into a gap from the edge of the 22-yard line to find Benetton flanker Negri to collect and dive over the Welsh try line.
Italy, with their tails up, looked the most likely to extend their advantage, but as a recovery was threatened, ill discipline would prove to be their undoing.
Kieran Crowley’s side would be again in trouble with the officials, losing their second player to the sin bin just as they had returned to a full allocation.
Italian wing Pierre Bruno punished for a clumsy elbow on Wyn Jones, after a lengthy TMO intervention had ruled out a straight red.
Gatland’s side would punish the hosts with the extra man to gain the bonus point for a fourth try. The excellent Webb, quickest to react to an Italian error in midfield to burst into the Azzurri twenty-two, drawing in a couple of defenders, before offloading to Faletau to restore the Welsh advantage.
Wales were tireless in the maul. Adam Beard, outstanding in commitment as they battled hard to ward off an Italian reprieve. Scrum-half Fusco finding a gap in the Welsh midfield from Garbisi’s pass, before the Ospreys lock broke up the attack.
The Azzuri much like their previous matchups would show heart and extreme fitness to once again reduce their areas as the game approached its final ten minutes.
Bruno dancing through the Welsh defense before offloading with strength to Brex to score the Italian’s second try of the afternoon.
The final period proved to be a nervy spell for Gatland’s side as they became too slow in the breakdown. The intensity brought from the Italian bench forcing a bloodied rearguard performance from the Welsh defense to hold off the home side’s building momentum.
Resolute to the end, Gatland’s side would hold on to their advantage to secure their first victory of the campaign.
Italy XV: Allan, Padovani, Brex, Menoncello (Morisi 59), Bruno, Garbisi,Varney (Fusco 56), Fischetti (Zani 61), Nicotera (Bigi 52), Ferrari (Riccini 32), Cannone (Iachizzi 60), Ruzza, Negri (Zuliani 52), Lamaro, Cannone.
Liam Williams (North 61), Adams (Rees-Zammit 51), Grady, Hawkins, Dyer, Owen Williams, Webb (Tomas Williams 53), Wyn Jones (Gareth Thomas 45), Owens (Captain) (Baldwin 68), Francis (Lewis 52), Beard, Jenkins (Davies 68), Morgan (Reffell 59), Tipuric, Faletau.
(Image: WRU / Six Nations Rugby)
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