Wales blow title race wide open

Date published: March 21 2015

Wales ran in 47 second-half points as they beat Italy 61-20 on Saturday, giving themselves the best possible chance of winning the Six Nations.

The visitors ran in eight tries on the day but a late Leonardo Sarto score for the Italians gives England and Ireland hope ahead of their respective fixtures.

Wales knew the size of their task and maybe pundits had done a disservice to Italy this week, as they showed plenty of early guts in defeat.

In fact, they led for the majority of the first half as the Welsh struggled to get off on the right foot in the first game of the last day.

They began terribly when straight from the kick-off, obstruction led to a penalty being awarded to the Azzurri. Kelly Haimona added three.

However the unlucky fly-half would leave the field four minutes later after his tackle on Wales centre Jamie Roberts saw him injure an arm. On in his place was Luciano Orquera, who like his team defended admirably in the first period whilst demonstrating decent spells in attack.

There was a back and forth in terms of early scoring in Rome as Italy were caught offside after eight minutes, leading to Leigh Halfpenny stepping up for his first points of the afternoon. But when lock Luke Charteris handled an Italian at the lineout, Orquera made it 3-6.

But then it would be the turn of Italy to make the cardinal error of obstruction at the restart, meaning it was a short-lived lead for them.

With almost 20 minutes gone it seemed Wales were so intent on not rushing matters that at times it seemed lethargic. Fortunately a grubber kick from Halfpenny down the left side of the field led to Roberts collecting and grounding for 11-6. Halfpenny crucially missed the extras.

The trend continued though and with Wales defending unlike they did last week, Italy left wing Giovambattista Venditti snuck over from the tail of a maul. Orquera's successful conversion meant the Azzurri were back in front at 11-13, as Welsh fans started to look at the clock.

Concerned Welsh supporters had feelings of tension heightened when full-back Halfpenny departed after a head collision with Samuela Vunisa's knee. He did not return from his Head Injury Assessment test as Scott Williams came on and performed well for the remainder of the fixture.

A re-jig to the backline led to Wales upping the pace and despite not getting the required try before the break, Biggar did land a penalty.

Then with the second half came the breakthrough for Wales as Liam Williams moved to fifteen and starred at the back, picking up a try after running a fine line off Rhys Webb on 48 minutes before setting up George North with a score from halfway to make it 28-13. It was game on.

North crossed again on 55 minutes to make it 35-13 only seconds after Italy centre Andrea Masi was shown yellow for taking a player out and suddenly the Azzurri looked lost and tired while the Welsh were firing on all cylinders, with both benches being used for different reasons.

A hat-trick try from North soon followed before the hour mark as Wales surpassed England to go with Ireland on the points difference column.

Italy received another yellow card on 64 minutes when second-row Quintin Geldenhuys was pinged for dragging down a maul and Wales almost got their sixth but for lock Alun-Wyn Jones being held up over the try-line. That score did come soon after though as Webb went over for 47-13.

They hit the 50-point mark before 70 minutes too with arguably the pick of their tries when Scott Williams and Justin Tipuric combined to send captain Sam Waburton over from 35 metres. The wheels of the Italian machine were now well out of sight in the Rome rear-view mirror.

A further try from Scott Williams on 72 minutes looked like setting up a perfect finale for Wales but when Sarto crossed at the death, the Welsh fans wondered how that might impact on their title hopes. England and Ireland know their task as the Six Nations goes down to the wire.

Man of the match: Losing one of the best goal-kickers in the world was possibly a blessing in diguise for Wales as Liam Williams' form at the back was outstanding in the second half. However, for another consistent performance at the coalface, Alun-Wyn Jones gets the nod, ahead of the hugely impressive Sam Warburton.

Moment of the match: The try from Liam Williams on 47 minutes gave Wales the springboard to get the ball rolling in Rome. From then on their superior fitness and quality shone through.

Villain of the match: Harsh on replacement scrum-half Gareth Davies but he will be a nervous man for the next few hours after coughing up a late chance to score. Italy went down the other end and crossed for a try of their own. Could it prove costly?

The scorers:

For Italy:
Tries: Venditti, Sarto
Cons: Orquera 2
Pens: Haimona, Orquera
Yellow cards: Masi, Geldenhuys

For Wales:
Tries: Roberts, L Williams, North 3, Webb, Warburton, S Williams
Cons: Biggar 6
Pens: Halfpenny 2, Biggar

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Enrico Bacchin.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Luke Pearce (England)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Donal Courtney (Ireland)