By Owain Jones, Rugby World Editor
In a nutshell: Italy tackled themselves to a standstill in a scrappy game in which Wales struggled to find their rhythm but still had more than enough class not to be ruffled by the Azzurri. In the first-half Wales dominated in terms of possession but only had three Leigh Halfpenny penalties to show for all their territorial advantage. The visitors replied with a solitary penalty by Mirco Bergamsco. After the break a similar pattern emerged until the 50 minute mark when Jamie Roberts ran in from distance. The next major talking point came when Leigh Halfpenny was shown yellow on 62 minutes for a clumsy challenge on an airborn Sergio Parisse. The visitors were unable to prosper as Wales yet again showed how they could control game while a man-down, increasing their lead to 19-3. With the clock counting down, a quickly taken penalty saw Alex Cuthbert released and he made for the corner. Despite being pulled down yards short of the line, he used all of his 6ft 6in frame to stretch add some gloss to the final score.
Key moment: On 50 minutes Alun Wyn Jones stole some superb turnover ball in the Wales half and the Wales backs quickly spread the ball wide. Jamie Roberts, an injury doubt prior to the game, took the ball in midfield, gave a little shimmy and straightened up inside Mirco Bergamasco before pinning back his ears back to go in under the posts. It was Roberts’ first try for eight matches and will have given the Newport-born battering-ram a sense of satisfaction given his reputation as a route one, take-the-contact style centre. The try means he’s unlikely to have too many sleepless nights about losing his place for the Grand Slam decider.
Man of the Match: The Official Man of the Match was given to Alex Cuthbert, the coltish giant whose 40-metre dash and score enhanced a scrappy performance, but we’re handing Justin Tipuric the honours. The 22-year-old Osprey, making his first Wales start, showed exactly why Wales are now blessed with two of the most natural No. 7s in world rugby. On the shoulder of the runner more often than not, ‘Tips’ was the man on most lips at the final whistle. He went through his full repertoire, jackaling Sergio Parisse, driving a 40-metre kick deep into Azzurri territory, much to the admiration of the watching Martyn Williams, and having the pace and determination to follow it up and nearly snatch an audacious score. He also showcased his sumptuous handling skills, a neat step and phenomenal fitness. If Wales do have to lose captain Sam Warburton next week, the Stadium masses will know they have a more than able deputy to step in.
Could do better: Warren Gatland will be concerned by the amount of yellow cards Wales are picking up. Leigh Halfpenny became the third player to go in the bin in four games and Gatland will know France be more clinical if it happens for a fourth consecutive occasion. For their part Italy, despite the massive defensive effort, showed no attacking verve and Jacques Brunel will have to try harder to extract the flair out of a team desperate for a win.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland (on the Grand Slam): “It won’t be difficult for us to get through this week at all. The guys have got their heads on. These young players are just taking these things in their stride. The players are well aware about the huge amount of hype but I would like to think they are in a good place and that the Welsh public are pretty happy with them.”
Italy head coach, Jacques Brunel: “The spirit we have shown today was completely different than against Ireland in Dublin, especially in our defensive performance against what is a very powerful Welsh side and we kept ourselves in the game almost throughout.”
Wales made 210 passes to Italy’s 104
Wales made 62 tackles missing one, while Italy made 121 missing 15 tackles
Wales made four line breaks to Italy’s one line break
Alex Cuthbert was Wales’ top carrier making 101 metres compared to Italy’s Andrea Masi who made 56 metres
Sergio Parisse was Italy’s top tackler with 12, while Dan Lydiate topped Wales’ tacklers with eight
Tries: Roberts, Cuthbert Con: Halfpenny Pens: Halfpenny 3, Priestland
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny (James Hook 75), Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies (Scott Williams 69), Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips (Rhys Webb 71), Gethin Jenkins (capt), Matthew Rees (Ken Owens 62), Adam Jones (Paul James 70), Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans (Luke Charteris 62), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau (Ryan Jones 65)
Italy: Andrea Masi; Luke McLean, Gonzalo Canale (Tommaso Benvenuti 66), Alberto Sgarbi, Mirco Bergamasco, Kristopher Burton, Fabio Semenzato (Tobias Botes 66), Andrea Lo Cicero (Staibano 72), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Tommaso D’Apice 54), Lorenzo Cittadini (Fabio Staibano 51), Quintin Geldenhuys, Cornelius van Zyl (Marco Bortolami 51), Alessandro Zanni, Simone Favaro (Robert Barbieri 63), Sergio Parisse (c)
Not used: Giulio Toniolatti
Referee: George Clancy
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