Welsh survive Azzurri scare to record opening Six Nations win

Wales 23 Italy 15

Welsh survive Azzurri scare to record opening Six Nations win

Wales 23 Italy 15

Reigning champions Wales huffed and puffed their way to an opening RBS 6 Nations victory at the Millennium Stadium after underdogs Italy gave them a major scare.

First-half tries by wing Alex Cuthbert and centre Scott Williams sent Wales on their way, but Michele Campagnaro’s second-half try double kept Italy in contention.

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 13 points for Wales, while Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan booted a penalty and a conversion.

Alun-Wyn Jones captained his country for the first time since 2009 as Wales targeted a winning start in their quest to land an unprecedented third successive RBS 6 Nations title.

The Ospreys lock replaced Sam Warburton as skipper, with Warburton beginning his comeback after a shoulder injury on the bench, while Rhys Priestland reclaimed fly-half duties from Dan Biggar and Luke Charteris started instead of suspended second-row forward Ian Evans.

Italy, without a victory in seven previous Millennium Stadium visits, saw lock Marco Bortolami win his 100th cap, but an inexperienced, injury-hit back division featured four players with just seven Test appearances between them.

Bortolami marked his century by leading out an Italy team that all wore black armbands in memory of national academy player Salvatore Di Padova, who died recently in a car crash.

But the Azzurri were rocked by a fourth-minute Wales try following some nightmarish defending by debutant wing Angelo Esposito.

Priestland’s kick into the Italian 22 should have been collected, but Esposito made a hash of it and Wales wing Alex Cuthbert pounced for his 10th try in 20 Tests before full-back Leigh Halfpenny successfully landed the touchline conversion.

Wales had been determined to make a flying start after a first-half no-show against opening Six Nations opponents Ireland last season, and they almost scored again when George North was narrowly denied following a kick and chase from inside his own half.

Italy needed a settling score and it arrived through fly-half Tommaso Allan’s 13th-minute penalty from close range after Wales flanker Dan Lydiate infringed, yet the home side looked dangerous every time they shipped possession wide.

Italy enjoyed a spell inside the Wales 22, put there by a superb touchfinder from full-back Luke McLean, but Halfpenny’s angled penalty 12 minutes before half-time took his team into double figures.

The Azzurri kept plugging away, though, and they went close to a 35th-minute try when skipper Sergio Parisse tangled with North, but the Stade Francais number eight knocked on before crossing Wales’ line.

Wales responded when centre Jamie Roberts carved open Italy’s defence and his inside pass was collected by midfield partner Scott Williams for a high-class try that Halfpenny converted.

Italy stunned Wales at the start of the second period when they scored a breakaway try after stealing possession just outside their own 22.

Centre Michele Campagnaro and wing Leonardo Sarto combined confidently, before Treviso prospect Campagnaro showed a blistering turn of pace by winning the race following his kick ahead to haul Italy back in contention.

Allan failed to add the conversion before Halfpenny registered an uncharacteristic penalty miss, meaning Wales could not relax in a game they might have thought was wrapped up after 40 minutes.

Italy, driven onwards by their inspirational skipper Parisse, had every intention of tearing up the script, and Wales needed to regroup approaching the midway point of a fast and furious second half.

A second Halfpenny penalty extended Wales’ lead after 67 minutes, by which time Warburton had taken the field as replacement for Lydiate, but yet again the visitors hit back.

And it was Campagnaro who again breached Wales’ defence, intercepting Halfpenny’s pass to Roberts before sprinting away for a try that Allan converted.

Italy were back in the hunt at 20-15 adrift, and Wales needed to finish strongly following a second-half performance that will have frustrated head coach Warren Gatland.

Halfpenny’s third successful penalty sealed the deal, but they will require a vast improvement against Ireland in Dublin next Saturday.

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