Rugby Union: Thomas seals victory as Italy again prove their worth

Wales 23 Italy 20
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The Independent Online
A real curate's egg for Wales, this one. They achieved most of the primary objectives they took into the match, yet the feeling of a let-down lingered.

But Wales are not that far out of the doldrums as to treat Saturday's win over Italy, conquerors of France, Ireland and Scotland inside the last 10 months, as any kind of failure.

It was a good evening for Wales in that they played the greater part of the match in Italy's half, the pack functioned better as a unit than for many a day, and, yes, they won.

It would be hard to believe, however, that Wales would turn over as much possession in a whole match at Twickenham in their Five Nations opener on Saturday week as the likes of Scott Quinnell, Gareth Thomas and Scott Gibbs did in the first half at Llanelli.

Perhaps for all their preparation they were taken aback by the strength and stealth of the tackling. Massimo Giovanelli, the flowing-haired flanker and captain, set a marvellously combative example, willingly followed by the impressive centres Cristian Stoica and Luca Martin.

It was Gareth Thomas who sealed the game with a crucial try in the 78th minute. Italy were caught covering the passing options as he stormed on to Arwel Thomas's midfield set-up and sprinted 50 metres diagonally to the line.

That gave Wales a 23-13 lead and, for the first time, real security. Italy had counter-attacked fluently on several occasions, and from one such raid, Diego Dominguez broke clear from half-way and the ball was snapped outside to Marcello Cuttitta and back inside for Stoica to dot down behind the posts on 68 minutes.

The Welsh pack gained tangible reward for their efforts with a penalty try early in the second half. A series of scrums began with an Italian put-in but that was turned over and, under tremendous pressure, scrum- half Alessandro Troncon and one or two of the back row as well dived in to concede the score.

Now the Italians must wait for a rubber stamp from England on their inclusion in an expanded Championship. The team is clearly up to it.

Wales: Tries Penalty try, G Thomas; Conversions Jenkins 2; Penalties Jenkins 3. Italy: Tries Stoica, Sgorlon; Conversions Dominguez 2; Penalties Dominguez 2.

WALES: N Jenkins (Pontypridd); I Evans (Bath), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), G Thomas (Cardiff); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); A Lewis (Cardiff), B Williams (Richmond), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Voyle (Llanelli), R Appleyard (Swansea), S Quinnell (Richmond), M Williams (Pontypridd). Replacements: C Charvis (Swansea) for M Williams, 70; J Humphreys (Cardiff) for B Williams, 70

ITALY: C Pilat (Benetton Treviso); P Vaccari (Fly Flot Calvisano), L Martin (Padova), C Stoica (Narbonne), Marcello Cuttitta (Milan); D Dominguez (Stade Francais), A Troncon (Benetton Treviso); Massimo Cuttitta (Harlequins), C Orlandi (Milan), A Castellani (L'Aquila), V Cristofoletto (Benetton Treviso), G Croci (Milan), M Giovanelli (Narbonne, capt), J Gardner (Benetton Treviso), A Sgorlon (Benetton Treviso).

Referee: S Lander (England).

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