Rugby Union: Qualified success for Welsh: Talk of a renaissance far-fetched as a swaggering start gives way to indifference against dogged Italians: Steve Bale reports from Cardiff Arms Park

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The Independent Online
Wales XV. . .43

Italy . . . .12

FOR A while this looked as if it might mark the rebirth of Welsh rugby but Wales's second-half deterioration showed that the gestation has a way to go. Wales still have manifold problems, and the idea of their presenting a realistic challenge to Australia looked almost as far-fetched as it was when the Wallabies triumphed here a year ago.

At times there was a swagger and confidence about the Welsh game, reflective of the consistent quality at the top end of the Heineken League, but the longer last night's proceedings went on the worse Wales played and ultimately they were fortunate to win by so many.

The opposition, dogged and enterprising though it was, was not the greatest but Wales have had enough embarrassments - remember Western Samoa and Romania - to welcome such a result. Italy at times were excellent; their forwards were more than adequate, won some decent ball and in particular completely nullified Anthony Copsey as a line-out force.

This, up front, is where Wales will be under enormous threat when the Wallabies grace the Arms Park on 21 November. Last night the Welsh backs looked sharp and imaginative, but the pack did not win sufficient possession and then did not control it. England or Australia would have loved it.

On the other hand, this was progress of a sort, bearing in mind how poor Wales were exactly a year ago when the World Cup was on and how awkward Italy were during that tournament. England beat them 36-6 (it would have been 40 under the new scoring values) in Pool A and went on to the final and a second consecutive Grand Slam, so last night's Welsh tally was by certainly not discreditable.

For one thing, there was less of the timidity which has so afflicted them in recent times. Last night the try-line, hitherto an almost impenetrable barrier, become something to be crossed rather than run into, and although Scott Gibbs missed out when he was the first to get there, losing the ball in the act of touching down, Wales were under way when Anthony Clement scored their first try after eight minutes.

Swiftly won loose ball was worked through Jones, Jenkins and Stephens to Gibbs, whose diagonal kick eluded Paolo Vaccari and was gathered by Clement, with Stephens adding the conversion. It was a perfect example of the style of rugby Alan Davies, the coach, has been trying to inculcate into his players.

Even after such a start, occasionally Wales were under pressure - though the defensive strength which Davies made a priority last season stood his side in good stead during the first half at least. When they came away they scored again, Ieuan Evans escaping Marcello Cuttitta after Robert Jones had put in another kick.

By half-time, Colin Stephens had sprinted away for Wales's third and in the second half Gibbs pulled out of Vaccari's tackle after being put away by Mike Hall. The fifth try came when Stuart Davies was the beneficiary of a long and scrappy passage of Welsh attack, Stephens this time converting.

And there, for far too long, it remained. Italy thoroughly deserved the try by Ivan Francescato with which they were rewarded for a lengthy period of pressure and much of the rest of the game saw Wales thrown into defence, Italy comfortably their superiors. The Welsh pack ceased to function, many of the Welsh team ceased to tackle and they could not complain when Marcello Cuttitta slipped the by-now inadequate defence for a second Italian try, this one converted by Massimo Bonomi.

Wales had begun to look totally disorientated - scarcely surprising given that they played not in red but in green. The official, fatuous reason for adopting the alternative strip was that this was only a non-cap Wales XV. In fact, it was a commercial opportunity (the game was televised by BBC Wales and the Welsh-language fourth channel) for the benefit of the kit suppliers. Is nothing sacred?

Wales, who had seemed out on their feet a little earlier, still had a flourish in them when Richard Webster and the replacement Mike Rayer added late tries, both converted by Stephens. It made it look more convincing than it really was.

Wales XV: Tries Clement, Evans, Stephens, Gibbs, Davies, Webster, Rayer; Conversions Stephens 4. Italy: Tries Francescato, Marcello Cuttitta; Conversion: Bonomi.

WALES XV: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), R Bidgood (Newport), S Gibbs (Swansea), M Hall (Cardiff); C Stephens (Llanelli), R Jones (Swansea); M Griffiths (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey, E Lewis (Llanelli), S Davies, R Webster (Swansea). Replacement: M Rayer (Cardiff) for Bidgood, 67.

ITALY: P Vaccari (Calvisano); E Venturi (Rovigo), S Barba (Milan), S Zorzi (Treviso), Marcello Cuttitta; M Bonomi (Milan), I Francescato (Treviso); Massimo Cuttitta (Milan), G Pivetta (San Dona, capt), G Grespan, M Giarcheri (Treviso), C Checchinato (Rovigo), R Cassina (Casale), J Gardner (Rovigo), A Bottacchiari (L'Aquila).

Referee: F Howard (England).