Wales returned to the victory trail in the Six Nations when they claimed a 38-14 bonus-point win over Italy in Cardiff on Sunday.
Although they were comfortable winners in the end, Wales were frustrated for large periods as Italy delivered a competitive performance and the home side only secured their try-scoring bonus point in the 67th minute.
The victory means Wales move above England, France and Scotland into second place in the standings while Italy are still firmly rooted at the bottom of the table. This result means the Azzurri have now lost 16 successive Six Nations matches with their last victory in the competition registered on February 28, 2015 when they beat Scotland and Murrayfield.
The match started brightly for the home side and they opened their account as early as the fourth minute when Hadleigh Parkes gathered the ball close to Italy’s try-line before spinning out of a couple of tackles on his way over the try-line.
Wales continued to attack and three minutes later, Owen Watkin pounced on a poor offload. Watkin did well to get a pass out to the onrushing George North, who ran for more than 50 metres before crossing the whitewash.
Despite trailing 14-0 on the scoreboard, Italy stayed true to their attacking style of play and in the ninth minute Matteo Minozzi showed why he is so highly rated when he beat North with good footwork before crossing for his side’s first try.
Wales thought they had extended their lead when Steff Evans chipped ahead inside Italy’s 22 and Gareth Davies did well to gather the kick before dotting down. However, their joy was short-lived as television replays revealed that Davies was in front of the ball when Evans kicked it upfield.
Wales put that incident behind them and increased their lead in the 37th minute when Gareth Anscombe slotted a penalty after Giulio Bisegni strayed offside on defence.
Just before half-time, Wales were reduced to 14 men when Liam Williams was sent to the sin-bin for making contact to Minozzi’s neck with his shoulder, but although Italy had superior numbers, it did not deter the home side as three minutes after the restart, Cory Hill barged over for their third try after running onto a pass from scrum-half Davies close to Italy’s 22.
Wales suffered another blow in the 50th minute when Davies was also yellow carded when he deliberately knocked on an Italian pass and for about two minutes the home side only had 13 men on the field.
Despite having a bulk of the territory and possession, Wales could not convert their dominance into points on the scoreboard as Italy kept them at bay with a solid defensive effort.
Wales continued to attack and thought they had their fourth try in the 65th minute when Parkes went over the try-line but his effort was disallowed when the television match official ruled that there was no clear grounding.
Two minutes later, Wales launched an attack from a scrum on Italy’s five-metre line and North gathered a pass from Rhys Patchell before crashing over for that elusive fourth try.
In the 71st minute, Justin Tipuric crossed for his side’s fifth try after the ball went through several phases in the build-up and five minutes later Mattia Bellini scored a consolation try for the visitors.
With the game in the bag, Wales took their foot off the pedal although Italy finished the match with 14 men when Tommaso Benvenuti was also sent to the sin-bin shortly before the full-time whistle for a similar indiscretion to Davies’ earlier on.
Tries: Parkes, North 2, Hill, Tipuric
Cons: Anscombe 3, Halfpenny 2
Yellow Cards: Williams, G Davies
Tries: Minozzi, Bellini
Cons: Allan, Canna
Yellow Card: Benvenuti
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau (c), 7 James Davies, 6 Justin Tipuric, 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Leigh Halfpenny
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)