A season in which Wales promised so much delivered a little here. The cynics might have been muttering "It was only Italy", but those who understand redemption when they see it realised that the Dragonhood had at least clambered to a level which their coach deems to be acceptable.
Warren Gatland asked for a big performance, and in many respects he received one. The spectre of the wooden spoon dangled in front of Wales, yet they never put themselves in danger of an upset. James Hook lit up the scoreboard with two tries on a day when this criminally under-used talent convinced that he could be an outside-centre of note. Yet it says something about the display of the back line that Hook was barely on the podium when it came to the man of the match.
In the end the champagne went to Stephen Jones, and the fly-half was influential in overseeing the three home tries. However, it was the return of the Lion beside him which was perhaps the transforming element. Mike Phillips had not played more than 50 minutes in almost six months thanks to injury, but the Ospreys scrum-half looked like he had never been away. The mood of Welsh rugby is prone to go from the basement to the top floor and straight back down again like a lift powered by plutonium, but any Valleys optimism today will be forgivable. Jones appeared to be a different player with Phillips in attendance. And so did the red shirts in their entirety.
Of course, the pack deserved praise; if only for at last sorting out the line-out, which some wag before had described as "not so much their Achilles heel as their Achilles right leg". The prop Gethin Jenkins has been much missed, but then everybody knew that.
There was grit up front, too. Never in the long reign of Martyn Williams has another Welsh No 7 seemed capable of filling the Cardiff Blues openside's boots. Step forward Sam Warburton. He did so all game. Indeed, the young man encapsulated the team's determination to finish on a high.
Gatland, typically, was not about to enter the land of make-believe. Wales are where they are in the table – fourth, for a second year running – and the Kiwi was not popping corks.
"I thought it was a professional performance by us – we went out there and showed what potentially we are capable of," he said. "But this campaign's been pretty frustrating, really. We haven't performed to our potential.
"We feel our position in the table doesn't really reflect how good we are. Yeah, there's a lot of things to work on, but we think on our day we can trouble any side in world."
But this wasn't any side in the world – it was Italy. Plucky but oh so limited Italy. Despite Nick Mallett's men containing their hosts in the first half – restricting them to four Jones penalties – their ambition probably started and stopped with their demand to keep the roof open. Unfortunately for them, it did not rain. Well, nothing but Welsh attacks anyway.
Within 15 minutes of the second half starting Hook had scored his second try, and although both were superbly framed – the second coming from a quite beautiful moment of fly-halfery by Jones – the Osprey might most be reminded of that passage for the simple pass he did not give to Tom Prydie. The 18-year-old would have capped becoming Wales's youngest international with a try if Hook had looked outside. Still, Prydie does have a mightily impressive debut to look back on.
The other wing, Shane Williams, did touch down his obligatory score (51 tries and counting) and at one stage it seemed the scoreboard would make for embarrassing reading. As it was, Italy scored a try, through their full-back, Luke McLean. It was the only bright spot of a second half in which the Azzurri lost their shape and discipline. Their openside, Mauro Bergamasco, went to the sin-bin, a punishment his brother, incredibly, avoided. Mirco Bergamasco hit Phillips at least four times in two incidents. But Wales went home happy.
Wales L Byrne; T Prydie, J Hook, J Roberts (T Shanklin, 65), S Williams; S Jones (A Bishop, 73), M Phillips (D Peel, 73); G Jenkins, M Rees (H Bennett, 64), A Jones (P James, 63), B Davies (I Gough, 18), L Charteris, J Thomas, R Jones (capt; G Delve, 70), S Warburton.
Italy L McLean; K Robertson, G Canale (M Pratichetti, 6), G Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; C Gower, P Canavosio (T Tebaldi, 30; R Bocchino, 65); S Perugini (M Aguero, 60), L Ghirladini (capt; F Ongaro, 68), M Castrogiovanni, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (V Bernabo, 76), J Sole (M Vosawai, 57), A Zanni, Mauro Bergamasco.
Referee: W Barnes (England).Reuse content