Rugby

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Wales begin to believe again

Michael Aylwin

Published 24/02/2013|04:00

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The horrifying run of seven is edging further into the past. At the Stadio Olimpico, Wales registered their second consecutive win, following their infamous run of other results. Now they can begin to turn their minds to the future and a championship defence that may yet prove successful, if they can keep this fledgling run going.

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Wales 26

The horrifying run of seven is edging further into the past. At the Stadio Olimpico, Wales registered their second consecutive win, following their infamous run of other results. Now they can begin to turn their minds to the future and a championship defence that may yet prove successful, if they can keep this fledgling run going.

And they are building it on the road. No one will want to remind them of their recent home record, when England visit Cardiff, but a third consecutive away win, in Murrayfield next Saturday, could set that contest up nicely.

A superb performance by Leigh Halfpenny provided the bedrock of this win, but there were supporting pillars all round. Gethin Jenkins was a terrier round the field and played his part in a scrum that eventually prised Italy open.

The lineout was less convincing, but such was Wales's energy in the loose, the back row particularly effective and tireless at the tackle, that Italy rarely threatened. Two second-half tries followed, each claimed by one of those fancy Dans in the three-quarters, who, nevertheless, in this Wales team would not look out of place in a scrum themselves. Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert garnished fine performances of their own with the two scores that took Wales away in the third quarter.

Italy could find no answer, beyond three Kris Burton penalties. This was a return to the scrapping, limited game we know them better for. They certainly felt the loss of their missing captain Sergio Parisse at the base of the scrum.

This, for the most part, due to the wet weather, was a contest of kicks – from the hand and off the tee. And plenty of scrums. Wales dominated this department, and did so quite convincingly against Italy's hugely experienced front row. In the first quarter Wales fairly ploughed through the Italian scrum, time after time. On the back of it, they'd opened up a 9-3 lead by the end of the second quarter.

Wales could not add to their tally in the second period. Halfpenny missed one at last, but by then Italy had added to their early penalty with another to close the gap to three points.

The caginess was finally broken open by Wales five minutes into the second half, with a try that sprung, of course, from a series of kicks. The sequence was sparked by a monstrous punt by Cuthbert. The return by Luke McLean was nowhere near as long, so when Dan Biggar successfully fielded his own up-and-under, Wales were just outside the Italy 22. Mike Phillips's box kick was wickedly placed between two Italian defenders, and the bounce favoured Davies, who gathered for a simple score.

Almost immediately, Wales botched a defensive lineout to put themselves in trouble, and Burton slotted his third penalty, only for Halfpenny to land his best kick of the lot – from a good 50 metres, wide out left – after Wales's scrum won another penalty. It was when they won yet another, in defence, that the game was settled. This time, Italy's stand-in captain, Martin Castrogiovanni, was sent to the sin bin.

From the next lineout, Wales developed a rapid, defence-scattering drive, and Biggar put Cuthbert, on the rampage from the blindside wing, through a hole. He galloped untouched to the corner. Halfpenny converted from the touchline, and that was 26-9, entering the final quarter. The game was up.

Observer

Scorers – Wales: J Davies, A Cuthbert try each; L Halfpenny 4 pens, 2 cons. Italy: K Burton 3 pens.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert (A-W Jones 51), J Davies, J Roberts (M Williams 70), G North; D Biggar (J Hook 68), M Phillips (L Williams 63); G Jenkins (P James 45), R Hibbard (K Owens 51), A Jones (C Mitchell 73), A Coombs, I Evans, R Jones (S Warburton 68), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Italy: A Masi; G Venditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale (G Garcia 63), L McLean; K Burton, E Gori (T Botes 64); A Lo Cicero Vaina (D Giazzon 54), L Ghiraldini (Q Geldenhuys 54), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini 70), A Pavanello, F Minto (A de Marchi 54), A Zanni, S Favaro (P Derbyshire 70), M Vosawai.

Referee: R Poite (Fra)

Irish Independent

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