Wales recover from slow start to win in Italy
But they will need a considerable improvement to threaten next Saturday’s opponents England after they triumphed 33-7 following tries during the final quarter by centre Jonathan Davies, plus wings Liam Williams and George North as they posted 30 unanswered points in the second period.
Wales reeled off an 11th successive victory over the Azzurri, but while the final scoreline was convincing, they 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.
Ultimately, the home side were undone by a combination of poor technical discipline – they repeatedly fell on the wrong side of referee JP Doyle – and Wales belatedly finding some form as they made it four wins on the bounce under interim head coach Rob Howley.
Wales missed an early chance to go ahead when Leigh Halfpenny sent a long-range penalty wide, and there were a couple of immediate concerns for the visitors as North needed treatment on his right leg and skipper Alun Wyn Jones went off as a blood injury, with Cory Hill temporarily replacing him.
Wales dominated initial territory on a slippery surface, showing plenty of creative signs and Liam Williams was only just clawed back by an Italian defender after catching stand-off Dan Biggar’s kick at full speed.
Jones returned to action 11 minutes after going off, and Wales almost delivered a scoring breakthrough after Biggar’s poor pass to centre Davies bounced off his foot, but Italy prop Andrea Lovotti managed to clutch possession before Davies could pounce.
The Azzurri then enjoyed their best spell and impressive close-range work by their forwards ended in Gori diving over for a try that Canna converted, making it 7-0 with ten minutes of the first half left.
Halfpenny cut the deficit with an angled penalty just before the break, but it was largely a 40 minutes to forget for Wales, as one statistic – nine missed tackles – underpinned an unconvincing effort.
Biggar did not reappear for the second period and was replaced by Ospreys back Sam Davies, who gained his first taste of Six Nations action.
Halfpenny kicked a second penalty and completed his hat-trick five minutes later.
Wales led for the first time, and a fourth Halfpenny strike made it 12-7as they took a stranglehold on the contest – underlined when Lovotti was sin-binned following repeated team scrummaging infringements – and the visitors capitalised immediately as smart work by Sam Davies and Scott Williams enabled Jonathan Davies to dive over.
Halfpenny’s conversion took Wales 12 points clear, ending Italian hopes, before Liam Williams finished the Azzurri off. North struck with a late breakaway score.