Histrionics from Henson deepen Welsh blushes

Italy 15 Wales 20
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The Independent Online

Gavin Henson's attitude at the end of this grim but exciting encounter summed up an afternoon in which Wales avoided one of the more humiliating defeats in their history but achieved very little else. It is not a match that the centre, or indeed his country, will want to remember.

It was the last few seconds when Wales were granted a penalty on the halfway line and Stephen Jones stepped up to take a shot at goal. By then Henson was in an argument with the squad's captain, Ryan Jones, believing that as the team were five points to the good and that time was, in effect, up, they should kick for touch. Jones's attempt duly came up short and Italy were allowed one last chance to seek the try that would give them the win they deserved.

When the Azzurri move broke down and the final whistle sounded, Henson ran down the tunnel without shaking the hands of his opponents. Worse still, he did not appear when the Welsh team ran back out to applaud the fans. At best it was petulant; many will consider it another sorry episode in his controversial career. His coach, Warren Gatland, said he was not aware of the incident, although he did acknowledge the verbals between Henson and Jones. In fairness, the Kiwi had plenty of other things on his mind.

For starters, his gamble in making nine changes to the team beaten in Paris two weeks ago had almost blown up in his face. A number of the players brought in did not justify their inclusion; nor did a few of the regulars. Gatland said: "I'm delighted with the win". Perhaps more should be read into his following comment: "We've answered a few questions." In short, the reserves are not yet good enough.

Italy played like men possessed; Wales were more of the repossessed variety. Certainly Andy Powell should have been evicted by Gatland, although to lay all the blame at the feet of the Cardiff Blues No 8 would be harsh. At least Powell had the quite wonderful Sergio Parisse as his opposite number. There were no such excuses in many other positions.

Wales's scrum was walloped, they were tackled to a standstill and they lost too many turnovers. Italy even managed to out-pass Wales by 142 to 114. In fact, as the blue shirts surged forwards it seemed as if the Six Nations had been turned on its head. This was a match last year's champions probably should have lost to last year's wooden-spoonists. But for the right hand of the Mark Jones, they almost certainly would have lost.

The wing managed to touch down a fraction of a second before Alessandro Zanni after a scrappy kick and chase. That came at the end of a first half Italy had dominated far more than a 9-7 scoreline suggested. Shane Williams had provided a rare glimpse of light in finishing off a move involving a fine interchange between Henson and the stand-in captain, Alun-Wyn Jones. Otherwise James Hook had slotted over a penalty and missed a straightforward shot in front of the posts. Italy had only Andrea Marcato's three penalties to show for their efforts. The feeling was that they would be made to pay for their profligacy.

But still the Welsh mistakes came, and so did the Italians. Marcato and Hook traded penalties, but Marcato made it 15-12 and with 10 minutes left the shock was on. By now Gatland had gone to the first-choicers on his bench and the benefits were immediately obvious. Tom Shanklin had been on the pitch for only 90 seconds when he became the match winner, throwing an outrageous dummy to Henson and skipping over to score. Hook kicked the conversion from wide out and Welsh relief abounded. That was until the Henson strop and the frustration that subsequently set in.

But feel for the Italians. Parisse, their captain, was simply immense in giving them the go-forward and everything else positive about their play. There were real signs of encouragement for their coach, Nick Mallett, who now has a display to show to his critics. So much for the disunited rabble portrayed in the press. If any team bore that insult yesterday, it was Wales.

Italy: A Marcato (L Orquera, 76); G Rubini, G Canale, Mirco Bergamasco (R Quartaroli, 74), M Pranchetti; L McLean, P Griffen (P Canavosio, 66); S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, C Nieto (M Castrogiovanni, 50), S Dellape (C Del Fava, 50), M Bortolami (J Sole, 66), A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), Mauro Bergamasco.

Wales: L Byrne (T Shanklin, 69); M Jones, J Roberts, G Henson, S Williams; J Hook (S Jones, 76), M Phillips; J Yapp, H Bennett (M Rees, 57), R Thomas (G Jenkins, 57), L Charteris (B Davies, 66), A-W Jones (capt), J Thomas (R Jones, 57), A Powell, D Jones.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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