The key talking points from Wales’ 38-14 win over Italy in the 2018 Six Nations
Wales v Italy Talking Points from Cardiff
It wasn’t quite the cakewalk that some expected but a new-look Wales side had too much firepower for Italy, running in five tries and climbing to second spot in the Six Nations table.
George North, back in the side after injury, scored against the Azzurri for a fifth match in succession. The wing grabbed a brace to go with scores by centre Hadleigh Parkes, lock Cory Hill and flanker Justin Tipuric. Parkes was awarded the Man of the Match award by commentator Jonathan Davies.
Warren Gatland’s side were reduced to 13 men briefly in the second half after yellow cards for Liam Williams and Gareth Davies, but Hill’s try took Wales three scores clear at 24-7 and Italy’s hopes of ending a debilitating championship losing streak faded. This was their 16th successive Six Nations loss, one shy of France’s all-time record.
“There were some real positives and some real negatives in terms of players getting a kick up the backside,” said Gatland. “But we’ve done a job. We’ve succeeded in doing what we wanted to do.”
Increasing the depth
Wales’ ten changes contributed to a lack of fluency but overall there were plenty of pluses for Gatland and his coaching team.
Flanker James Davies had an encouraging debut, earning the game’s first turnover as early as the second minute, and he finished as the game’s top tackler – with 18 – before taking his leave 15 minutes from time.
Elliot Dee was excellent at hooker and lock Cory Hill cemented his glowing reputation in the engine room. His 45th-minute try proved dispiriting for Italy, coming as it did when the visitors had a one-man advantage.
And how wonderful to see Taulupe Faletau back in the red jersey. Captain for the first time in his 71st Wales Test appearance, he produced a thumping hit on Tommaso Allan and was involved in one of the game’s best moves when supporting James Davies and linking with Justin Tipuric in a thrilling back-row breakout.
“The back row worked really well together considering they were a new combination,” said former Wales coach Nigel Davies on Scrum V. “And they’re the gel that holds the game together in many ways. We’ve spoken a lot about the Scarlets over the last couple of seasons and a lot of their game is based around the work and effort of their back row, and we saw that in the Welsh performance.”
Sometimes you can almost start too well. Wales flew out of the traps to score twice in six minutes. First, Parkes went through a poor tackle by Tommaso Castello that left him dazed and led to his departure.
Then fellow centre Owen Watkin marked his first Six Nations start by sprinting downfield from an interception and finding North, who duly scored Wales’ 200th Six Nations try – just as Rugby World had predicted in our preview! They’re the fourth country to reach that figure after England, Ireland and France.
Matteo Minozzi responded quickly for Italy as the breathless pace continued, but things calmed down for a long period as the Azzurri fronted up.
Magic of Minozzi
Minozzi was one of three men who Paul Grayson picked out as having caught his eye in this championship.
And amid a fusillade of tries and other near misses, there was none better than the Italian full-back’s score ten minutes in. His lightning feet left Liam Williams for dead on the short side, then Minozzi beat Gareth Davies for pace – which takes some doing – and dived into the corner before Steff Evans could intervene.
It was a brilliant try by the 21-year-old Minozzi, who thus embellished his fast-growing reputation. He was a menace to Wales all afternoon and also saved a try by beating Liam Williams for pace after both men chased after a hack upfield.
Yellow or red?
Liam Williams received a yellow card in the first half’s final moments after a tackle on Minozzi after the whistle had gone.
There was initial dismay by the BBC commentators that referee Jerome Garces was even bothering to consult with the TMO. But replays, from the clearest angle, showed that Williams’s shoulder connected forcefully with Minozzi’s face (and not with the neck, as TMO Marius Jonker asserted).
There was no ill intention of course but sanctions are outcome-based and full-back Williams could easily have been red-carded under the strict guidelines that exist to protect players from just this sort of reckless contact.
It capped a disappointing day for Williams, who failed to return after the sin-bin period had elapsed as Leigh Halfpenny came on as a replacement.
Gatland’s irritation was clear and whether Williams retains the 15 shirt for the final match with France on Saturday will be one of the more intriguing selection issues.
“Liam is a fantastic player, he doesn’t need to get involved in that sort of nonsense,” said Nigel Davies. “It is an unfortunate part of his game. Hopefully Liam can go forward and just concentrate on his game. He doesn’t need those cheap shots in his game.”
The fact Wales had a penalty advantage at the time, which was then overturned, contributed to Gatland’s frustration and his decision to take Williams off so early.
Italy can play – and at times they threatened to do the unthinkable by winning the match.
But once again they are left to rue costly lapses. They gifted Wales a 14-0 lead but turned round only ten points adrift. When Gareth Davies, carded for a deliberate knock-on, joined Liam Williams in the sin-bin, Italy had a 5m lineout chance against 13 men but lost the ball.
Hill’s try, from a one-out pass, was too soft from Italy’s perspective and that effectively ended the contest five minutes into the second half. Conor O’Shea’s men went into their shell a little in attack and began missing tackles as they tired in the last quarter.
Italy had more possession and territory over the course of the 80 minutes, which will delight O’Shea after the paucity of ball they achieved in Dublin and Marseille.
Furthermore, Dean Budd and Sergio Parisse were influential figures in the lineout, but the edifice somewhat crumbles when you miss one in five of the tackles you’re asked to make. Italy made 100 tackles but missed 25; Wales made 135 tackles and missed just eight. It is a hugely telling statistic.
So for all their promise, Italy have again finished second best by some distance and now must beat Scotland next week to avoid a third successive Six Nations whitewash.
The battle at ten
England’s defeat in Paris means the runners-up place is up for grabs and after finishing fifth last year, Wales will be keen to hold on to their second spot and bank the extra prize money.
Their selection for the France match will be fascinating but the assumption must be that, with a six-day turnaround, the regulars in this championship who were omitted at the weekend will return. Naturally, the world-class Faletau can expect another start at eight but who will get the nod at ten? Opinion is divided between Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell, who both fared well against Italy and showed a willingness to take the ball to the line. The days of Dan Biggar walking into the side have gone.
North, too, will surely start against les Bleus on a Super Saturday that will lack a little fizz after Ireland wrapped up the title with a game to spare.
Wales – Tries Parkes, North 2, Hill, Tipuric. Cons Anscombe 3, Halfpenny 2. Pen Anscombe.
Yellow card Liam Williams (40), Gareth Davies (48).
Italy – Tries Minozzi, Bellini. Cons Allan, Canna.
Yellow card Tommaso Benvenuti (77).
Wales Liam Williams (Leigh Halfpenny 50); George North, Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Gareth Anscombe (Rhys Patchell 60), Gareth Davies (Aled Davies 60); Nicky Smith (Rob Evans 60), Elliot Dee (Ken Owens 60), Tomas Francis (Rhodri Jones 67), Cory Hill (Seb Davies 65), Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, James Davies (Ellis Jenkins 65), Taulupe Faletau (capt).
Italy Matteo Minozzi; Tommaso Benvenuti, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello (Jayden Hayward 4), Mattia Bellini; Tommaso Allan (Carlo Canna 68), Marcello Violi (Guglielmo Palazzani 63); Andrea Lovotti (Nicola Quaglio 60), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Oliviero Fabiani 68), Simone Ferrari (Tiziani Pasquali 63), Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri (Federico Ruzza 67), Maxime Mbanda (Giovanni Licata 14), Sergio Parisse (capt).
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