Wales beat Italy 29-17 on Saturday to claim their first win in this year’s Six Nations and strike a blow in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Rio Dyer, Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau all touched down in Rome with a penalty try adding to their score, claiming a bonus point victory and condemning Italy to their 25th straight home defeat in the competition.
Owen Williams also kicked seven points in a win which belied pre-match talk of the hosts being favourites against a Wales team which has had a troubled tournament.
Warren Gatland’s side leapfrog the Italians into fifth place on five points and will avoid finishing in last place for the first time in 20 years as long as the Azzurri don’t beat Scotland at Murrayfield next weekend.
“No one gave us a chance today and I’m very happy. We worked hard, we put in the effort, and I’m very proud of the boys as we put in a good performance and a good result,” Wales captain Ken Owens told S4C.
“We have to improve. France will be another challenge next week. It will be much easier after a win.”
Wales, who round off their campaign in Paris, had only scored three tries in their first three defeats but capitalised on an error-strewn performance from the Italians who, without star full-back Ange Capuozzo, regressed into bad habits of old.
Kieran Crowley’s Italy will have to go back to the drawing board after accruing a huge amount of good will with previous displays, in particular against France and Ireland.
They dotted down twice through Sebastian Negri and Juan Ignacio Brex, with Tommaso Allan kicking seven points, but were always chasing the game at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Italy have got off to bad starts in both of their previous home matches and let Wales get their noses in front early on with another sloppy start.
Wales were already ahead via Owen Williams’ sixth minute penalty when in the ninth minute Rhys Webb looped over a kick towards the corner which took a wicked bounce, evading winger Pierre Bruno and landing straight into the hands of Dyer who strolled under the posts for a converted try.
Allan, playing in place of Capuozzo, opened the scores for the hosts in the 16th minute with a penalty but two minutes later Liam Willams added Wales’ second try.
The Cardiff full-back dodged four weak tackles after Tomas Francis turned over possession and Taulupe Faletau’s bad pass found him on the right flank.
Italy then had two great chances to dot down but on both occasions bad decision making cost them points, first Allan playing a poor pass to Stephen Varney just as a try looked a certainty.
And then another beautiful spell of handling led to Federico Ruzza trying to get to the line with a pass on, with Brex then failing to touch down after scooping up the ball.
Those two missed opportunities cost the hosts as Wales were then gifted a penalty try five minutes before the break when Lorenzo Cannone collapsed a maul with Ken Owens in try-scoring range.
Italy pulled the score back to 22-10 almost immediately after the break through Negri, the Benetton flanker on hand to score from Allan’s delicate kick over the top.
But with Bruno sin-binned for clouting Wyn Jones in the throat Wales re-established their 19-point advantage after smart play from Webb.
The Ospreys scrum-half spotted a gap a the base of the ruck and darted through an unsuspecting Italian defence before offloading to Faletau for a simple converted score.
Brex again pulled Italy closer in 68th minute when he finished off under the posts following another spell of quick hands, but it was too little, too late to avoid another a fourth defeat in as many matches in this year’s tournament.
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