Wales are one win away from a Grand Slam after hammering Italy

Italy 7

Wales 48

WHO WOULD HAVE thought it? Wales boss Wayne Pivac came into this Six Nations well aware of the whispers about his future in the role after a miserable 2020.

Now his team are one win away from a Grand Slam, even if the last hurdle looks very high. France in Paris next Saturday will be a tough final task, particularly given that les Bleus will still be chasing the title regardless of their result against England this evening.

Josh Adams scores Wales’ first try. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

If it all comes down to points difference, Wales improved their standing with this 41-point winning margin over the Italians.

Pivac will acknowledge that Wales have been the beneficiaries of luck along the way – red cards for Ireland and Scotland, refereeing error against England – but winning teams are always favoured by fortune and Wales have taken their chances when presented with them.

They were clinical today in Rome as hooker Ken Owens scored a brace and Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, George North, Callum Sheedy, and 20-year-old wing Louis Rees-Zammit all dotted down too. 

Wales deserve credit for their accuracy, but it was all too easy against another poor Italian performance in which their defence was porous once again.

While questions will be asked about Italy’s place in the Six Nations in the wake of this latest heavy defeat, but the reality is that the CVC deal has only strengthened their status in the championship. Italy will receive the smallest share of the €426 million CVC are paying over the next five years, but we must hope they invest their chunk more wisely than anyone else. 

Wales celebrate Taulupe Faletau’s score. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

There are talented young players in Franco Smith’s squad but the gap appears only to be widening as the leading nations improve.

Italy were dire from the off, captain Luca Bigi giving up an early penalty for going off his feet at the breakdown to allow Dan Biggar to kick Wales 3-0 ahead before Bigi was sin-binned for an offside tackle on Gareth Davies when the scrum-half quick-tapped a penalty.

Wales scored straight off the ensuing scrum as Biggar’s skip pass allowed Adams to finish in the left corner.

Pivac’s men were soon over in the right corner through number eight Faletau, meaning the Welsh grabbed 12 points while Bigi was in the sin bin. 

His return made little difference as the Welsh wrapped up their bonus point on the half-hour mark, hooker Owens first scoring directly from a maul and then scrambling over for his second try after another maul had come to ground a few metres short.

Dan Biggar wins an aerial contest for Wales. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Rees-Zammit had a possible score chalked off when the TMO review showed Biggar’s last pass had been forward, but Wales still led 27-0 at half time.

They had their fifth score within two minutes of the restart as they struck from a scrum and Jonathan Davies offloaded for centre partner North to race in underneath the posts from 35 metres out.  

The Italians finally fired a shot with half an hour remaining, left wing Monty Ioane producing an excellent try on penalty advantage as he chipped over the head of Rees-Zammit down the narrow shortside and beat fullback Liam Williams to the bouncing ball to dot down, with Paolo Garbisi converting. 

Adams should have had his second soon after but managed to get his own right arm underneath the ball to prevent the grounding after some slick handling in midfield.

Italy lost another player to the sin bin in the 57th minute when replacement prop Marco Riccioni led with the elbow into Willis Halaholo’s tackle, and Wales again took advantage.

Ken Owens scores for Wales. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

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First, replacement out-half Callum Sheedy scooted over from player of the match Josh Navidi’s fluid link pass five metres out from the Italian tryline, then Rees-Zammit intercepted an Italy pass in his own 22 and showed his pace to race clear. 

Italy scorers:

Tries: Monty Ioane 

Conversions: Paolo Garbisi [1 from 1]

Wales scorers:

Tries: Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau, Ken Owens [2], George North, Callum Sheedy, Louis Rees-Zammit

Conversions: Dan Biggar [3 from 5], Callum Sheedy [2 from 2]

Penalties: Dan Biggar [1 from 1]

ITALY: Jacopo Trulla (Edoardo Padovani ’43); Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Carlo Canna, Monty Ioane (Oliviero Fabiani ’7 to ’17, Zilocchi ’66 to ’68); Paolo Garbisi (Federico Mori ’54), Stephen Varney (Marcello Violi ’63); Danilo Fischetti (Andrea Lovotti ’65), Luca Bigi (captain) (yellow card ’7),  Giosue Zilocchi (Marco Riccioni ’33); Niccola Cannone (Marco Lazzaroni ’51 – reversal ’63), David Sisi; Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer (HIA – Maxime Mbanda ’25 to ’35), Michele Lamaro.

WALES: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North (Willis Halaholo ’46), Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (Callum Sheedy ’52), Gareth Davies (Lloyd Williams ’52); Wyn Jones (Rhys Carré ’57), Ken Owens (Elliot Dee), Tomas Francis (Leon Brown ’44); Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones (captain) (Jake Ball ’54); Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau (Aaron Wainwright ’54).

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].