Wales moved to the top of the Six Nations standings on Saturday with a hard-fought 26-15 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
After starting their campaign with a narrow come-from-behind win over France in Paris last week, Wales opted to rest most of their first-choice players for this encounter and it showed as they battled to build momentum on attack.
Both sides eventually scored two tries apiece although four first-half penalties from Dan Biggar proved the difference between the sides in the end and he also added a conversion to finish with a 14-point haul.
The result means Wales have now won 11 successive Tests, which is a record for them in the professional era, while Italy are on a 19-match losing streak in the Six Nations.
Wales dominated from the outset and took a 3-0 lead courtesy of a penalty from Biggar after the Azzurri were blown up at a breakdown.
Italy continued to infringe as the half progressed and Biggar slotted another penalty in the 14th minute after the home side’s front-row were gulity of illegal scrummaging.
Shortly afterwards, the Azzurri were caught offside on defence and Biggar made no mistake from the kicking tee before succeeding with his fourth penalty on the hour-mark to give his side a deserved 12-0 lead.
But despite dominating in the possession and territorial stakes, Wales could not breach Italy’s defence and the home side actually finished the half stronger.
On a rare occasion that the Azzurri ventured into Wales’ half they were awarded a penalty within goal-kicking range but instead of lining up a shot, Tommaso Allan opted to kick for touch and put the ball out deep inside the visitors’ 22.
The gamble paid off and after setting up a couple of phases close to Wales’ try-line, Braam Steyn spotted a gap and barged over from close quarters for the opening try.
Allan slotted the conversion which meant his side were only trailing by five points and he had a chance to make it a two-point game when he took a shot at goal – after Adam Beard played Sebastian Negri in the air at a lineout – on the stroke of half-time. His kick struck an upright but Wales were fastest to the loose ball and managed to scramble the ball into touch before with the score 12-7 in their favour at the break.
Italy made the brighter start to the second-half and narrowed the gap to two points courtesy of a penalty from Allan.
Wales took control of proceedings in the 55th minute when Liam Williams burst through a tackle from Jayden Hayward just outside Italy’s 22 before getting a pass out to Josh Adams, who crossed for a deserved try.
That score gave Wales more breathing space and they upped the ante on attack. In the 64th minute, Jonathan Davies crossed the whitewash but his effort was disallowed after television replays revealed a handling error before he dotted down.
Despite that setback, Wales continued to attack and they sealed their win in the 70th minute when Owen Watkin dived onto an inch-perfect chip kick from Gareth Anscombe behind the home side’s try-line.
The closing stages was a frantic affair as both sides gave the ball plenty of air and Italy were rewarded when Edoardo Padovani crossed for a consolation try in the 75th minute after good work from Allan in the build-up.
For Italy: Tries: Steyn, Padovani Con: Allan Pen: Allan
For Wales: Tries: Adams, Watkin Cons: Biggar, Anscombe Pens: Biggar 4
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 David Sisi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Nicola Quaglio Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore’, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Marco Barbini, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Jonathan Davies (c), 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Nicky Smith Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Hallam Amos
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France) Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Shuhei Kubo (Japan) TMO: David Grashoff (England)
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