The good and the indifferent from Rome, where Wales came from behind at half-time to record an emphatic Six Nations win over Italy
Scotland shocked the Irish, France put the wind up the English. Italy, however, were unable to keep the surprises going on the opening weekend of the RBS 6 Nations as they subsided after half-time, conceding 30 points in 40 minutes to a Welsh team that finished in confident and free-flowing mood.
Rob Howley’s men thus chalked up a fourth successive win and lead the table after round one, but how will they reflect on a match that threatened to turn into a Roman ruin? Here’s a look at the good and the bad from the Stadio Olimpico…
Sam Davies – The clamour for Davies to start against England next weekend has already started, and it’s a little unfair on Dan Biggar, whose accurate cross-kicks to wings George North and Liam Williams helped negate the Italians’ early speed.
Biggar played the greasy conditions well but Davies, who came on at half-time after Biggar’s rib injury, showed a greater capacity for getting his back-line moving and had a hand in all three Welsh tries.
Scott Williams also played beautifully, his skill at committing a man evident in the tries by Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams that broke the Azzurri’s resistance just past the hour mark. Calls for Biggar and Davies to form a new 10-12 axis should be ignored while Williams is delivering as he did today.
Innovation – Nothing could match Alex Dunbar’s lineout try for invention this weekend but Italy’s first-half score by Edoardo Gori ran it close.
Sergio Parisse’s delicious inside pass to Braam Steyn off a scrum created the momentum for a mini maul near the sticks, Gori being forced over by a clutch of surging Italian forwards. It was Italy’s high point.
Bonus points – Let’s hear it for the new points system. Wales only scored their second try with 13 minutes remaining, but in the closing stages they lifted the intensity because they knew a bonus point – for scoring four tries – was still within reach.
George North’s fine finish left Wales three or so minutes to snatch the bonus and they so nearly achieved it, Liam Williams spilling the ball in the final play as he reached for the line.
Would we have seen such a hectic finish without the new system being in place? Unlikely.
Muddled thinking – Can someone explain the logic in Leigh Halfpenny going for goal from 48 metres – with difficult underfoot conditions – but then not going for goal from far easier positions later in the first half? This when the game was still scoreless.
In electing to kick for the corner, Wales appeared to be thinking in terms of a bonus point for four tries from the off, but you adopt such a stance at your peril.
‘Build a score’ is one of rugby’s more powerful truisms and by failing to register points, in a half when they had 73% possession and 78% territory, Wales allowed Italy to believe.
Sergio Parisse – Everyone loves eulogising about the Italy captain, and rightly so because he continues to provide world-class performances in a team ranked only 13th in the globe. Some of his touches were magnificent but he needs to control his temper.
Referee JP Doyle was obliged to give him a stern ticking-off for dissent after 65 minutes, after Parisse felt a lineout call went against his team unfairly, and for a moment we thought he might replicate his red-card dismissal for abusing a referee four years ago in a club match for Stade Francais.
Parisse’s indiscipline is setting a poor example to his team, which leads to another flaw…
Indiscipline – By the time Andrea Lovotti was dispatched to the sin-bin around the 70-minute mark, Italy had conceded 15 penalties – two more than in any of their Six Nations matches last year.
Everyone wants to see a competitive Italy team but it’s not going to happen with so many daft indiscretions.
If we’re generous, we might say the ruck offence that allowed Halfpenny to make it 7-6 was unfortunate, but in the blink of an eye there followed a tip tackle by Steyn (7-9) and a ridiculous offside from a breakdown miles away from their line (7-12).
From leading at the break, Italy forfeited their advantage and the whole momentum of the game shifted. Wales scored 14 points while Lovotti was absent and an afternoon of such promise for Italy was washed away by a fusillade of whistles.
25 – Tackles made by Italy flanker Maxime Mbanda. Nothing wrong with Italy’s desire, they gave it their all
9 – Offloads made by Wales, against three by Italy. Alun Wyn Jones (14 carries) led the forward charge at the start of the second half and Wales looked twice the team once they started to play with freedom
100% – Wales achieved a perfect 13 out of 13 in the lineout, with Ken Owens meeting his usual high standards throwing in
5 – Number of successive Six Nations matches in which George North has scored a try, after his five-pointers against Scotland, France, England and Italy last year
4 – Jonathan Davies’s converted try brought up a Welsh milestone – they became the fourth team after England, Ireland and France to score 2,000 Six Nations points since the championship began 17 years ago
Italy: E Padovani (C Canna 73); G Bisegni (S Panico 59-70), T Benvenuti (M Campagnaro 52), L McLean, G Venditti; C Canna ( T Allan 68), E Gori; A Lovotti, O Gega (L Ghiraldini 46), L Cittadini (P Ceccarelli 58), M Fuser (J Furno 34-40, F Minto 62), G Biagi (J Furno 52), A Steyn, M Mbanda, S Parisse (capt).
Try: Gori. Con: Canna.
Sin-bin: Lovotti 59min.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 73), L Williams; D Biggar (S Davies HT), R Webb (G Davies 73); N Smith (R Evans 49), K Owens (S Baldwin 68), S Lee (T Francis 49), J Ball (C Hill 62), A Wyn Jones (capt, C Hill 4-15), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (J King).
Tries: J Davies, L Williams, North. Cons: Halfpenny 3. Pens: Halfpenny 4.