Wales 23 Italy 19
Wales suffered two alarming World Cup injury scares as Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny were carried off during their final tournament warm-up clash against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy.
Ospreys’ Webb, who scored five tries in nine Tests for Wales last season and is their undisputed top scrum-half, suffered a seemingly serious ankle injury when he became trapped in a ruck after 26 minutes as Wales edged home 23-19.
And full-back Halfpenny also departed on a medical cart after stumbling in open play 10 minutes from time. He required oxygen while being treated.
If Webb is ruled out of the tournament – Wales’ opening game is against Uruguay in 15 days’ time – then it could mean 94 times-capped Mike Phillips being recalled after he was cut from the training group by head coach Warren Gatland last month.
But Gatland can now only play an anxious waiting game with Webb and Halfpenny, hoping his well-laid World Cup plans for a group that also includes England and Australia do not begin to unravel.
Wales prevailed through five Halfpenny penalties – he passed 500 points for Wales in the process – a late Dan Biggar penalty and an early George North try, while Italy claimed a third-minute Leonardo Sarto touchdown before Tommaso Allan booted two penalties, Carlo Canna dropped a goal and Guglielmo Palazzani scored a try with the game’s final play.
Gatland made five changes from the side that defeated reigning RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland in Dublin last weekend, which included a return to action for skipper Sam Warburton after he rested a shoulder knock seven days ago.
Italy arrived at the Millennium Stadium on the back of a 48-7 drubbing by Scotland last time out, and memories were fresh of them shipping 61 points against Wales during the final day of last season’s Six Nations in March.
Wales, wearing a change kit that was officially billed as “anthracite” in colour, were left red-faced by a breakaway Italy score after just three minutes.
Wing Alex Cuthbert’s pass was intercepted by Italy captain Sergio Parisse, who sprinted 60 metres before being hauled down by Scott Williams’ tackle, but the Azzurri had sufficient numbers in support and Sarto touched down from close range.
Allan extended Italy’s lead through a ninth-minute penalty and with Wales also obtaining little change out of referee George Clancy, it amounted to a sloppy start until the home side stirred via a 12th-minute Scott Williams break, before slick handling allowed an unmarked North to claim his 23rd Test touchdown.
Parisse was again in the thick of the action just minutes later when he appeared to lead with his elbow in an aerial challenge with Cuthbert. He avoided any sanction, though, as Cuthbert left the field nursing a gashed forehead and Bristol back Matthew Morgan replaced him.
Webb’s injury then meant a muted end to the half, with Halfpenny and Allan exchanging penalties as Italy secured an unexpected 11-8 interval advantage.
Halfpenny landed his second penalty to make it 11-11 after 49 minutes but Italy enjoyed a territorial advantage, with Parisse prominent, and Wales lacked any kind of spark despite several of their leading players being involved in a game that Gatland would have wanted far more verve and creativity from.
It was unconvincing by the home team and although they clearly hoped their probable superior fitness might tell during the final quarter, there was no apparent sign of Italy succumbing, despite Halfpenny’s third penalty edging Wales 14-11 ahead.
Wales then saw out the contest, but the injuries to Webb and Halfpenny left the Millennium Stadium stunned and Gatland possibly without two of his major performers.