Wales got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start as they came from 7-0 down to beat Italy 33-7 at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Despite falling behind to Edoardo Gori’s try on 29 minutes, Rob Howley’s men hit back through Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and George North with Leigh Halfpenny contributing 16 points from the tee in an assured display.
Wales though will wonder what might have been as wing Williams came agonisingly close to scoring their fourth try at the death but lost the ball over the whitewash, meaning they would leave the game with just the four points.
The Welsh now look to prepare ahead of facing England in Cardiff next week while Italy welcome Ireland to Rome in a daunting fixture.
The pre-game downpour didn’t inspire confidence of a free-flowing game but it was far from a dull opening half as both chanced their arm.
Italy regularly turned down three points in favour of utilising their dominant scrum while Wales went to their lineout drive for metres.
Howley’s men did have the first attempt on goal however, on three minutes, when Halfpenny missed from distance. There was then concern over captain Alun-Wyn Jones after he came off due to blood and replaced by Cory Hill. The Osprey would return soon after though.
The slippy ball hindered both sides on occasions and following a period of Welsh line-outs near Italy’s line, it was then the Azzurri on the attack thanks to a scrum won against the head 30 metres out.
Sergio Parisse led the charge before they snubbed the posts and went for another set-piece, which paid off as scrum-half Gori latched onto a well-worked maul and crashed over for the converted try. It was 7-0.
That 29th minute score was the first in the game but Wales would get on the board before the break as Halfpenny punished the Italians for not rolling away on the ground.
As the sides headed for the dressing rooms it was clear that Conor O’Shea would be the happier head coach.
Howley had to make a change due to injury as Biggar was struggling with his ribs so on came Sam Davies with Wales needing him to impress.
It was Halfpenny who got Wales moving though with a 45th minute penalty after Italy failed to roll away, cutting the gap cut to one point.
The Welsh kicker would then nudge his side 9-7 in front when he punished flanker Abraham Steyn for his tip tackle on Ross Moriarty on 52 minutes, this amid wholesale changes being made by the respective head coaches in order to introduce fresh legs for the final half-hour.
Italy were now bleeding penalties and another shortly after – this time for Parisse being offside at a ruck – Halfpenny would strike again.
Due to those offences and Wales’ superior fitness, the away side were turning the screw with Rhys Webb grounding just short of the line before loosehead prop Andrea Lovotti was shown a yellow card at scrum time before centre Davies crossed wide out. Halfpenny made it 19-7.
It was all Wales as the game approached its final ten minutes and they were over again when Davies turned provider for Williams wide out.
Halfpenny again slotted the conversion as the Welsh suddenly sensed a bonus-point could be on. They had 11 minutes to find two more tries.
North provided the first on 78 minutes despite having a thigh injury, crossing from distance in a wonderful display of finishing, sparking one last surge from Wales.
But they fell just short as Williams could not ground the ball with Wales having to settle for the four points.
Yellow Card: Lovotti
Tries: J Davies, L Williams, North
Cons: Halfpenny 3
Pens: Halfpenny 4
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mata Maxime Mbanda, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 George Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)