This bonus point victory, Wales’ third in the 2021 Six Nations, has moved Wayne Pivac’s team into a shocking grand slam game. In truth, Wales’ 48-7 victory was never in doubt given Italy’s terrible record in the Six Nations and now only France stands between them and a second clean sweep in three years.
Given their significant struggles in 2020, Wales’s turnaround has been as surprising as it is remarkable. The last hurdle they will have to overcome will be in Paris last weekend. Even if they lose at the Stade de France, Wales would still be in a good position to win the title given their point difference. Of course, your goal will be much more ambitious than that.
Italy entered the fourth round after 30 consecutive championship losses. They had sent 139 points and 19 attempts in the first three games of this season’s edition. Unfortunately, it must be said that Franco Smith’s team reached new depths against Wales, who rampaged with hooker Ken Owens scoring twice in the first half.
So did Josh Adams and Taulupe Faletau. After the break, George North, Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit completed the win as Italy lost two men to yellow cards. Under the wonderful sun in Rome, Wales had perfect conditions and the departure from Italy could not have been worse. Elevated midfielder Paolo Garbisi extended the kickoff too long and allowed the visitors to aim the ball for a scrum at the midline.
Italy captain Luca Bigi immediately coughed up a penalty that Dan Biggar scored. Biggar also claimed a high ball in supreme fashion and Wales’ opening pace had Italy at sea. Returning scrum-half Gareth Davies made a quick bunt and was tackled by Bigi, who had not backed down 10 meters. The prostitute was trashed for the second game in a row. Wales scored quickly from the scrum with a man advantage. Davies found Biggar, whose perfect long pass sent Adams into the corner. Biggar got the kick right.
Rees-Zammit’s electric rhythm was demonstrated with an early run, but it was the young winger who became the creator when he sent Faletau after Adams’ excellent prep work. Smith had his head in his hands with Wales scoring at one point per minute. Wales’ intensity was excellent, but they weren’t being tested at all. Owens was hit by a rare attempt at a driving lineout that dismantled the Italian group and Biggar converted.
The Wales forwards were having a field day and the bonus point try came in half an hour. Owens’ second dealt the damage of another surge of momentum. Biggar hit the post. It could have been worse for Italy, but Rees-Zammit had a try disallowed for a forward pass from Biggar just before the break. Wales still went 27-0 on good terms.
Wales’ fifth came within minutes of the second half. Biggar found Jonathan Davies and his clean short pass to midfield teammate North allowed him to waltz down the line. Biggar was converted. North was eliminated immediately after equaling Shane Williams’ Welsh Championship record of 22 attempts.
Willis Halaholo replaced North and joined Jonathan Davies in midfield. Italy hadn’t offered anything every time they had possession, but out of nowhere they finally got on the scoreboard when Monty Ioane poured in for Rees-Zammit to score. It was a rare moment of brilliance that led Wales to ditch their bench. Sheedy, Lloyd Williams, Aaron Wainwright and Elliot Dee entered the fray as an attempt by Adams to be in contact was ruled out.
Pivac also featured Jake Ball for his 50th Wales cap and rested Captain Alun Wyn Jones. Ball will be leaving international rugby and joining his family in Australia at the end of the tournament. Italy’s replacement mainstay Marco Riccioni received a yellow card for driving Halaholo high and with his forearm. It could well have been a red card.
Sheedy’s first attempt for Wales, one that improved, at the hour mark set Wales to punish Italy in the fourth quarter. Man of the match, Josh Navidi, put out some good hands to send Sheedy out. There was still time for Rees-Zammit to intercept Carlo Canna’s bad pass and even from his 22, no one was going to stop him. It turned out to be the end result, but Wales will now go to Paris in poor health and on the brink of glory.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism