Sunday 23 July 2017

Wales made to sweat but survive Azzurri scare

Italy 16 Wales 24

Michael Aylwin at Stadio Flaminio

Wales are still not right, despite this win in Rome. This was a second win in a row, and when you have been on a recent run of eight without any at all, you'll take what you can get. An eight-point win is becoming an increasingly acceptable one against Italy in Rome, but defeats are still difficult to swallow, and this could easily have been one.





Missed kicks and mistakes continue to plague the Italians -- when it comes to genuine class they are still short, boasting only Sergio Parisse, who was excellent. But if they are in the right mood they will kick up a storm and force any visitors to be ruthless if they want to put distance between them and their hosts.

Wales were grateful here for a late James Hook drop-goal to move them out of harm's way far later than they would have liked. Italy will argue that for a couple of bad penalty misses and a borderline call against them from the video referee, who disallowed Alessandro Zanni's claim for a try, Wales would have been in bigger trouble. The game had three of its four tries within the first quarter of an hour, two of them by a then swaggering Wales.

But their confidence is brittle, and they could not build on the early promise. In the second half the visitors were unable to exert any influence and spent 80 per cent of it in their own half.

It was a sunny day made for the more skilful and ambitious, which Wales were, surely. And, from the off, they were off-loading and miss-passing as if their troubles were well and truly behind them. They had a penalty as early as the second minute.

Gonzalo Canale replied with a try three minutes later, but it did not seem to matter. It came from a miss-pass from a Welsh lock, Bradley Davies, in his own half. That made it a fairly typical Italian try, created as much by the opposition as by themselves. But Wales had ambitions of scoring a few of their own design.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, James Hook was ghosting through in that imperious way of his, Lee Byrne provided the link and Morgan Stoddart forced the ball down for a try. They may have looked confident then, but there was also something unstable about Wales, and Italy do not need any bidding if they sense anything brittle on their home patch. A chip into no-man's land had Stoddart and Byrne in a muddle and Wales coughed up a soft penalty. No matter. From the restart, Shane Williams put Byrne through, and Hook was on hand to send Sam Warburton to the posts for a fine try.

But that was it for Welsh pyrotechnics, bar a burst of activity five minutes before the break when Byrne was called back from what he thought was a good try for a forward pass by Williams. Two quickfire penalties before half-time made up for it in part.

For the preceding 20 minutes, though, it was Italy who dominated, just as they would for the next 40. Alberto Sgarbi was proving a handful, and his off-loading team-mates in the forwards swarmed around. One charge had them off-loading into the left corner, where Stoddart, according to the video ref, managed to get between the ruck-hurdling Zanni and his grounding of the ball. It must have been very close.

Warren Gatland's side, then, were 10 points to the good at half-time but the Italians came out fighting. Stephen Jones and Williams were the next to create a try for Italy, with Parisse profiting from their botched loop to go through Jones's desperate tackle. This time, not even the video ref could help the visitors. The gap was down to five with half an hour to play.

Now we had a more familiar Wales. The sun was being driven away by the lengthening shadows and with it went Welsh confidence. If Italy possessed a reliable kicker, Wales would have been in real trouble. The penalties came flooding Italy's way, but two easy ones were missed by Mirco Bergamasco and also Luciano Orquera.

In the end, Wales relied on Andrea Masi's skewed kick to touch for the position from which Hook kicked his drop-goal, just as they had relied on Italian errors to hold on to their lead. Italy do make a lot of them because they are not as good as the other Six Nations teams. Wales can be as good, but right now only for around 20 minutes a game.

Observer

Scorers -- Italy: Canale, Parisse try

each, Bergamasco 2 pens. Wales: Stoddart, Warburton try each, Jones 3 pens, con, Hook dg.

Italy: L McLean; A Masi (T Benvenuti

73), G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco;

K Burton (L Orquera 65), F Semenzato

(P Canavosio 71); S Perugini (A Lo Cicero

40), L Ghiradlini, M Castrogiovanni (S

Perugini 70), S Dellape (V Bernabo 52), Q

Geldenhuys, A Zanni, R Barbieri (M

I Vosawai 72), S Parisse.

Wales: L Byrne; M Stoddart, J Hook, J

Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, M Phillips;

P James, M Rees (capt) (R Hibbard 77),

C Mitchell, B Davies, A Wyn Jones, D

Lydiate, S Warburton, R Jones.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

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