Rugby Union: Thomas fights off the fatigue

Italy 22 Wales 31
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ROBERT COLE

reports from

the Olympic Stadium, Rome

Italy 22 Wales 31

Beggars cannot be choosers and any win away from home has to be considered a worthy triumph for Wales at present as they seek to climb out of the Second Division of the world game.

This performance may not have been anything to write home about, but it at least gave the Welsh coach, Kevin Bowring, something positive to talk about with his players as he contemplates the altogether different and more challenging tasks of facing Australia and South Africa in the space of two weeks in December.

The Italians had targeted this match as potentially their best chance of proving a point against one of the Five Nations sides. They threw everything into it, yet came up short once again.

Wales never produced the same fire and commitment they showed against the French 10 days earlier, when they led up until five minutes from time before going down 40-33, and almost paid for their lethargy.

Having raced into a 13-0 lead in the opening quarter, they found themselves in arrears with 16 minutes left to play after the boot of Diego Dominguez and the familiar threat of Ivan Francescato, who bagged his third try in as many games against Wales, had hauled the home side back into the game.

Bowring described it as "a tired performance" and then made a plea for help for his players. "I was pleased with the way we came back to win the game, but the game seemed to go flat for us for a long period in the second half," Bowring said.

"We needed a spark to get our continuity going again, but it wasn't there. It was a tired performance, but what can you expect when you realise that someone like Gareth Thomas was playing his 11th game of the season. Something must be done to put in place a properly structured season so that these players don't burn themselves out.

"Gareth has got to play for Bridgend in the Anglo-Welsh cup on Tuesday night and then in the European Cup against Castres on Saturday. How long he can last under that kind of pressure I do not know."

Thomas was the Welsh hero with a try in each half. At the end of his match-winning performance it was as much as he could do to concur with Bowring by admitting he was "knackered".

Picked at his club position of centre, Thomas was a constant threat to the Italian defence. He showed good vision for his first try, calling for the ball on the narrow side of a ruck 40 metres out, bursting through the first wave of tacklers and then rounding the second, and using his speed on the outside break to claim the try that won the game.

Scott Gibbs made two telling contributions inside him on his historic first appearance for Wales since returning from rugby league. It was his powerful drive into the Italian 22 which set up the platform for Thomas's second try and then he helped Dafydd James to halt Massimo Ravazzolo on the line as the Italians attempted to claw their way back in the dying moments.

That double tackle forced Ravazzolo to lose the ball as he went for the try, in much the same way as Robert Howley had done in the first half, but the Italians should have been awarded a try seconds earlier when the hooker, Carlo Orlandi, clearly got downward pressure on the ball over the Welsh line.

Neil Jenkins had had his clearance kick charged down in his 22 and Dominguez dribbled past the replacement full-back Leigh Davies. Both players dived and appeared to miss the ball over the Welsh line but TV replays showed that Orlandi had not.

Fortunately for Wales the South African referee, Carl Spannenberg, ruled in favour of Wales and gave the Italians a five-metre scrum. A converted try at that stage would have given the home team a one point lead again with six minutes to play.

Italy: Try Francescato; Conversion Dominguez; Penalties Dominguez 5. Wales: Tries Thomas 2, James; Conversions Jenkins 2; Penalties Jenkins 4.

ITALY: M Ravazzolo (Calvisano); P Vaccari (Calvisano), I Francescato (Treviso), S Bordon (Rovigo), L Manteri (Treviso); D Dominguez (Milan), A Troncon (Treviso); M Cuttitta (Milan, capt), C Orlandi (Milan), F Properzi Curti (Milan), P Pedroni (Milan ), D Scaglia (Treviso), A Sgorlon (Treviso), C Checchinato (Treviso), O Arancio (Milan). Replacements: J Pertile (Rugby Roma) for Vaccari, 68; R Rampazzo (Padova) for Checchinato, 68; A Castellani (Treviso) for Properzi Curti, 79.

WALES: W Proctor (LLanelli); S Hill (Cardiff), G Thomas (Bridgend), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Bridgend); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardif); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), J Davies (Neath), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), D Jones ( Cardiff), H Taylor (Cardiff), S Williams (Neath), K Jones (Ebbw Vale). Replacements: M Williams (Pontypridd) for K Jones 16-18; L Davies (Cardiff) for Proctor 47.

Referee: C Spannenberg (South Africa).

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