A seven-try 48-7 stroll in Rome puts Wales on the brink of a Six Nations Grand Slam
Double for Owens as Wales brush Italy aside
Wales will go to Paris next week in search of their second Six Nations Grand Slam in three years. And Wayne Pivac’s men will travel with a swagger in their step after blowing Italy away in the Stadio Olimpico sunshine, scoring seven tries to one.
Tries by Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens (two), George North, Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit made this a saunter for Wales.
And they piled on the misery for the bottom-placed Azzurri, whose record losing run now extends to 31 ahead of next weekend’s 2021 finale against Scotland. The visitors had two further scores, by wings Adams and Rees-Zammit, disallowed.
“We were adamant that if we went a few scores up we weren’t going to get carried away and would constantly try to refocus and reset,” said Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. “We’ll be a bit frustrated with 15 or 20 minutes of that second half but it’s a case of job done and move on.
“It was nice to see us taking our chances. That was a challenge that was set for us. We’ve had opportunities in other games we haven’t taken and had a couple more tries here that were disallowed. It’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s cliched but there’s plenty to work on. These Test weeks are special but next week is going to be special for a bit of a different reason.”
The outcome was decided long before even the half-time whistle. Italy made a wretched start as Paolo Garbisi smacked the ball too long at the kick-off, gifting Wales a scrum on halfway. Soon after, Luca Bigi conceded a penalty for not supporting his weight at the jackal and Dan Biggar opened the scoring.
Skipper Bigi’s afternoon got worse as he was sin-binned for tackling Gareth Davies too quickly from a tap penalty. Opting for the scrum, Wales threw two long passes to put Adams in for the first try. It all looked too easy.
No 8 Faletau got the next try on 13 minutes in the right-hand corner – his first Test score since 2016 – after the busy Adams made inroads down the left.
Italy went into the match as the joint worst offenders in the championship, with 41 penalties conceded in the first three rounds. The pattern continued as they were repeatedly on the wrong end of Wayne Barnes’s whistle. In particular, they were failing to move away in the tackle area. “Roll east to west,” Barnes emphasised.
From one such infringement, Wales kicked to the corner and Owens crossed from the subsequent lineout drive – his first Six Nations try in his 42nd tournament appearance.
Biggar survived a TMO review for a potential head contact whilst tackling Johan Meyer before Wales secured their try bonus point before the half-hour. Again it came from a lineout drive, and again from Owens, although this time the Scarlets hooker needed to show his athleticism and dexterity as he became detached but still stretched over to score.
Rees-Zammit had a try disallowed for a forward pass by Biggar before the half-time whistle brought temporary relief for the Azzurri. The score stood at 0-27 at the break.
It appeared that Wales’ record points haul in Rome, 67 in 2016, was under threat. But as so often happens, the intensity dropped off a notch amid a welter of early substitutions.
George North scored his 43rd Wales try straight after the break from a Jonathan Davies offload. But the next score went to Italy as wing Monty Ioane chased down his deft chip on the left touchline. Garbisi landed an excellent conversion.
Ioane was no doubt highly frustrated at spending two ten-minute periods on the sideline due to indiscretions from team-mates. The second of these was a dangerous fend by prop Marco Riccioni on Willis Halahalo. It was perilously close to a red card but the contact was fractionally below head height.
Adams blew a score by failing to touch the ball down before his feet slid into touch. So it was Sheedy who was next to score, plucking a pass from Man of the Match Josh Navidi out the air to waltz over. Back-row Navidi made 19 tackles and seven carries in a typically forceful performance by the Cardiff Blues man.
And Rees-Zammit, denied earlier, finally got on the scoresheet by intercepting Carlo Canna’s loose pass and running the distance. It was his fifth try in eight Tests.
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Italy threw a few metaphorical punches before no-side without being able to add to their score. There were no great celebrations at the end. For Wales, as with France, England and Ireland before them in preceding weeks, there was just recognition of a job well done against the championship’s weakest link.
The most points that Italy have conceded in a Six Nations is 228, in their first year back in 2000. Should Scotland score 42 against them next week at Murrayfield, that long-standing record will be broken. These are tough times for this callow Italian team.
“We conceded too many soft penalties. We have to be focused for the whole 80 minutes,” said Italy captain Bigi. “When we conceded a soft moment, they scored against us. That’s killed us.
“As players, we have to take some positives from the game. When we held the ball, when we created phases, we really put Wales under pressure. But we didn’t score. The last ten minutes, we built phases on their 22 but we didn’t score. We have to learn from that.”
Italy: Jacopo Trulla (Edoardo Padovani 43); Mattia Bellini, Ignacio Brex, Carlo Canna, Montanna Ioane (Oliviero Fabiani 7-17, Giosué Zilocchi 68); Paolo Garbisi (Federico Mori 54), Stephen Varney (Marcello Violi 63); Danilo Fischetti (Andrea Lovotti 65), Luca Bigi (capt), Giosué Zilocchi (Marco Riccioni 68), Niccolò Cannone (Marco Lazzaroni 52), David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer (Maxime Mbandà 26-36), Michele Lamaro.
Try: Ioane. Con: Garbisi.
Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North (Willis Halaholo 46), Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (Callum Sheedy 52), Gareth Davies (Lloyd Williams 52); Wyn Jones (Rhys Carre 57), Ken Owens (Elliot Dee 54), Tomas Francis (Leon Brown 45), Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (capt, Jake Ball 54), Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau (Aaron Wainwright 52).
Tries: Adams, Faletau, Owens 2, North, Sheedy, Rees-Zammit. Cons: Biggar 3, Sheedy 2. Pen: Biggar.
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