A round-up of what’s hot and what’s not from Wales’ final Six Nations game of 2016 against Italy in Cardiff
Wales put their Twickenham nightmare behind them at the Principality Stadium, running in nine tries to secure a record win and condemn Italy to the wooden spoon in this year’s Six Nations. There was no slow start this time as Wales attacked in waves from the off and led 27-0 at half-time. George North was deservedly Man of the Match, showing a real sharpness in his running game, but there were threats across the park for Wales. Italy scored two second-half ties, through Guglielmo Palazzani and Gonzalo Garcia, but by that point they were well on the road to a heavy defeat. Warren Gatland’s side were happy to take risks in this game – the question now is whether they will play the same, more open style in New Zealand in the summer.
Sense of adventure – Wales were embarrassed for an hour at Twickenham last week and they clearly had a few points to prove. There was nothing conservative about Wales’ attack in this match, offloads flying from all directions (George North’s back-handed one for Jamie Roberts’s second-half try was a beauty) and the hosts even launching attacks from their own 22. One such move resulted in a well-worked first-half try for Jonathan Davies as Wales had spotted the space out wide while after the break George North scythed his way through Italy’s defence from his own half. Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams, Ross Moriarty (two) and Gareth Davies were the others who crossed the whitewash.
There was far more freedom to their play as they looked to keep the ball in hand and spread it wide, rather than rely on their aerial kicking game to generate scoring opportunities. It wasn’t perfect – there were more than a few dropped passes and question marks of a forward pass in the build-up to Biggar’s try – but it was refreshing to see more ambition in their play. If they are to have any chance of winning a Test in New Zealand in June they need to show this sort of variety in their tactics rather than the continual use of multiple up-and-unders and hard runners.
The crowd – This may have been a dead rubber in terms of the title, what with it being decided a week earlier by Scotland’s win over France, but the packed Millennium Stadium was a riot of colour. Alongside the large swathes of red were plenty of Italian fans, the ones in front of the press box with curly wigs emblazoned with the colours of the Italy flag particular favourites. They were all in fine voice and delivered a fantastic atmosphere to what had become more of a low-key occasion.
David Odiete – The full-back was the one shining light for Italy in Cardiff. He may be slight but he’s a dangerous runner, stood up well in defence and stepped in at scrum-half when Guglielmo Palazzani was sent to the sin-bin in the first half. He almost notched a length-of-the-field score, too, but despite touching down, play was brought back for a Wales penalty inside Italy’s 22.
Italy – There was little expected of Italy before the tournament but the narrow defeat by France in round one raised a little hope. Their final two games of this Six Nations have extinguished all of those glimmers, though. Hammered by Ireland last week and Wales this, it looks like Italian rugby needs an overhaul – and fast. Jacques Brunel’s reign is now over and should, as expected, Conor O’Shea be named their new coach, he will under no illusions as to the task that lies ahead.
Yes, Italy have been hampered by injuries in this tournament and there do have talented players; Gonzalo Garcia, Edoardo Gori and Michele Campagnaro have shown ambition in attack during the championship and, of course, there are the unwavering abilities of Sergio Parisse. But their discipline must improve and they still need to find a fly-half who can consistently deliver at Test level. There’s much work ahead for the Azzurri.
Lack of a play-off – Following on from the Italy point, the Six Nations organisers must seriously consider opening up the championship to the likes of Georgia and Romania. This is not just simply being raised because Italy are propping up the table – similar questions have been raised when Scotland or Wales have been struggling in previous years. If rugby is truly committed to growing the sport, there has to be something for the lower-tier nations to aspire to.
Straight promotion-relegation might be too big a step for now, but surely a play-off between the bottom-placed Six Nations team and the winners of the European Nations Cup (ENC) is a good option? Georgia beat Romania 38-9 today to claim Europe’s second-tier competition in front of a 50,000 crowd in Tbilisi. Add in their RWC 2015 performances and they could give Italy a run for their money. There are complications as the ENC competition runs over two years not one, but simply starting the process of opening up the tournament to other teams would be a step in the right direction.
17 – The number of carries made by Jamie Roberts, nearly double Italy’s top carriers. Tommaso Allan and Oliviero Fabiani made nine each.
143 – The number of metres made by George North, the only player to make it to three figures.
12 – The number of line breaks made by Wales compared to three by Italy.
25 – The number of offloads made by Wales compared to eight by Italy.
Wales: L Williams; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, H Amos (G Anscombe 49); D Biggar (R Priestland 59), R Webb (G Davies 64); R Evans (G Jenkins 51), S Baldwin (K Owens 51), S Lee (A Jarvis 59), B Davies (J Ball 59), L Charteris, D Lydiate (capt), J Tipuric (R Moriarty 17), T Faletau.
Tries: Webb, Biggar, J Davies, Roberts, North, Williams, Moriarty 2, G Davies. Cons: Biggar 5, Priestland 3. Pens: Biggar 2.
Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, A Pratichetti (K Haimona 36), G Garcia, M Bellini (L McLean 34); T Allan, G Palazzani (A Lucchese 65); A Lovotti (M Zanusso 65), D Giazzon (O Fabiani 47), M Castrogiovanni (D Chistolini 47), Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo (J Sarto 47), F Minto (A Steyn 59), A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).
Tries: Palazzani, Garcia. Cons: Haimona 2.
Yellow card: Palazzani (19min)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Man of the Match: George North (Wales)
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