Wales still on track for Six Nations crown

Italy 9 Wales 26

Wales still on track for Six Nations crown

Italy 9 Wales 26

Wales kept on course for a second successive RBS 6 Nations title with a 26-9 defeat of Italy in Rome.

The visitors shaded a first half played in torrential rain on a treacherous surface 9-6, with a trio of penalties from Leigh Halfpenny. Kristopher Burton replied with two kicks for the Azzurri.

However, the visitors were dominant in the second half, with the highlights being tries from Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert.

Wales arrived at Stadio Olimpico with an unchanged team following victory over France in Paris two weeks ago that kept alive their title hopes.

But there were two fit-again Wales captains – Sam Warburton and Alun-Wyn Jones - on the bench, while Italy were without suspended skipper Sergio Parisse.

Parisse, sent off in a French league game for insulting the referee last Saturday, saw leadership duties go to Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni, and Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel also handed starts to half-backs Burton and Edoardo Gori following a 34-10 reversal against Scotland last time out.

Torrential rain in the Italian capital meant the pitch was covered until two hours before kick-off, but conditions showed signs of improving as kick-off approached.

The initial exchanges were predictably error-strewn, given testing conditions under foot, but full-back Halfpenny kicked Wales into an eighth-minute lead through an angled penalty.

Wales dominated the early territorial contest, with centre Jamie Roberts prominent, before Burton hauled Italy level when the visitors infringed at a scrum.

The slippery surface continued to cause problems, though, underlined when Dan Biggar’s poor kick to touch was knocked on by Gori and Wales gained a penalty that Halfpenny kicked.

Wales deserved their lead, yet there was a need for them to tighten up in certain areas and concentrate on wearing Italy down gradually, rather than looking to attack at every opportunity.

Wales put themselves under pressure when wing Cuthbert knocked on inside his own 22, but Italy could not take advantage against a well organised defence and they resorted to a drop-goal attempt which Burton fired well wide.

It was a cue for the heavens to open once again, yet Burton regained his composure and slotted a 29th-minute penalty that cut Italy’s deficit.

Wales then threatened through the enterprising Biggar, who freed Cuthbert on a touchline run, only for centre Gonzalo Canale’s tap tackle to thwart the danger.

Burton missed a drop-goal attempt three minutes after the restart – and Wales made them pay soon after with the game’s first try.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips bamboozled the Italian half-backs with a kick over a ruck, giving Davies a chance for a try he did not waste.

Burton reduced the arrears with a 49th-minute penalty but Halfpenny made it 19-9 to the visitors with a long-range penalty of his own.

Wales took control as the game entered the final 20 minutes, when the home team were penalised at the scrum, as Castrogiovanni was sent to the sin-bin.

Cuthbert scampered over for his team’s second try two minutes later after Davies created space with a dummy run – and when Halfpenny converted impeccably from out wide, the visitors had a commanding 17-point lead.

They rejected the opportunity to kick after being awarded a penalty inside the Italy 22, before Warburton came on for Ryan Jones.

James Hook came on for Biggar, then Scott Williams replaced Roberts with less than 10 minutes remaining.

The final replacement was made with six minutes remaining when Craig Mitchell replaced Adam Jones.

The rain had relented but Italy were unable to build up a head of steam. In fact Cuthbert would have come closest to a score in the latter stages of the game had he successfully collected an interception.

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