Wales staged a strong second-half recovery at Stadio Olimpico with tries in the final quarter from centre Jonathan Davies, plus wings Liam Williams and George North as they posted 30 unanswered points in the second period.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 18 points as Wales reeled off an 11th successive victory over the Azzurri, who struck first with an Edoardo Gori try that fly-half Carlo Canna converted.
While the final scoreline was convincing, Wales trailed 7-3 at the break as Italy sensed another memorable day under new coaching chief Conor O’Shea less than three months after claiming a historic triumph against South Africa.
The former Ireland international struggled to mask his frustration at Wales’ 30 unanswered points. Of as much concern was a 16-5 penalty count against his team.
“Rugby is a rollercoaster,” said O’Shea, who made no specific mention of match referee JP Doyle. “We have to change perception because we need to make sure both red and blue are looked at in exactly the same way. We know that Wales were the better side in the end, but I thought we were better in the first half. We have to make sure we change the perception of people who look at us, so we are refereed on a level playing field. The energy that is driven away and towards an opposition is huge when it is 16-5 (penalty count).
“We have a huge, huge challenge. I want to make sure we are looked on the same as others, and then we will be fine. Our defence in the first half was amazing, so there is lots to be positive about, but we can’t lose a penalty count 16-5 and win matches. We will look at ourselves first. It’s our fault. We will look at what we control, not anyone else, but human nature is human nature and we have to change a perception that people have, not today, but all the time.”
Despite a fourth straight win under interim boss Rob Howley, Wales will need a vast improvement to threaten England on Saturday.
He said: “Momentum is important in the Six Nations. Italy are coached by three fantastic coaches and we knew how difficult it would be. The conditions made it even tougher and we are pleased, but we will move on quickly and focus on the next one.”
Tries: Gori. Cons: Canna.
Tries: J. Davies, L. Williams, North. Cons: Halfpenny 3. Pens: Halfpenny 4.
Padovani, Bisegni, Benvenuti, McLean, Venditti, Canna, Gori, Lovotti, Gega, Cittadini, Fuser, Biagi, Steyn, Mbanda, Parisse.
Campagnaro for Benvenuti (53), Allan for Canna (69), Bronzini for Gori (63), Ghiraldini for Gega (47), Ceccarelli for Cittadini (59), Furno for Fuser (41).
Halfpenny, North, J. Davies, S. Williams, L. Williams, Biggar, Webb, Smith, Owens, Lee, Ball, A. Jones, Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty.
Roberts for S. Williams (74), G. Davies for Webb (74), Evans for Smith (50), Francis for Lee (50), Hill for Ball (63), King for Moriarty (74).
JP Doyle (England).