Hook stops Wales sinking in Rome

Italy 16 Wales 24: Centre makes both tries and shines in front of goal after notching up a very speedy 50 caps

Two in a row for Wales, but there was little reason to suspect that the Six Nations title is within their reach after this uncomfortable victoryin Rome.

This was the first time since autumn 2009 that Warren Gatland's men had posted back-to-back wins after Morgan Stoddart and Sam Warburton scored in a frantic first half. However, tries either side of the break from Gonzalo Canale and Sergio Parisse kept the Azzurri's hopes alive until James Hook's late drop-goal.

Hook was one of the shining lights for Wales, and despite lining up in his third position in as many games he remains a fulcrum of the Dragonsattack. He celebrated becoming the Wales player to reach 50 caps in the quickest time by creating both tries, but it was his coolness in front of goal six minutes from time that finally allowed Wales to breathe easy.

That coolness was in stark contrast to Italy, who were made to pay for squandering 10 points as Mirco Bergamasco and Luciano Orquera missed four kicks between them.

Gatland said: "This is a tough place to come and get a result. We saw Ireland struggle here a few weeks ago and it has been a banana skin for us in the past, so we're very pleased with the win.

"We made it difficult for ourselves by giving away soft tries that kept them in the game, but we have to be pleased with the result. We looked really sharp with the ball in hand and if the touch judge hadn't ruled out the try just before half-time, we could have come out after the break and really expressed ourselves.

"Italy are a very big, physical side, especially in Rome, and played exceptionally well. They were unlucky with a couple of shots at goal and they could have won the game."

Had those kicks been on target, Wales could have suffered the same fate as the defeats in 2003 and 2007 that almost cost Gatland's predecessors their jobs. The Kiwi was determined not to let history repeat itself.

However, memories of those losseslingered throughout as Wales were unable to shake off a dogged Italian side after blowing hot and cold.

After Stephen Jones had settled the Welsh with a third-minute penalty, Bradley Davies's poor execution inside his own 22 gifted Italy their first try. The second-row's delivery was intended for Stoddart but went to ground. Canale scooped up, swiftlykicked ahead past the covering Jamie Roberts and then shrugged off the attentions of Davies to touch down in the sixth minute.

With the victory over Scotland under their belts, Wales shook off the early blow to hit back with a scintillating try. Hook was the instigator, proving he could be just as effective at centre as he was at fly-half in Murrayfield as he scythed through Azzurri jerseys and offloaded to Lee Byrne. He then powered ahead before handing to Stoddart, who twisted his way over for his second try of the campaign.

Jones missed the conversion, and when Stoddart was mugged deep inside his own half minutes later, Bergamasco levelled the scores with a 12th-minute penalty.

However, Hook and Byrne were running amok in attack and once again combined to split Italy's defence and reward the flanker Warburton for his outstanding support play with his first Test try, under the posts.

Had the touch judge Dave Pearson not ruled out Byrne's effort on 34 minutes, later questioned by Gatland, Wales could have been home and dry by half-time, although two more penalties by Jones still handed them a 21-11 lead despite a creaking scrum.

Wales then allowed themselves to be drawn into a dogfight for much of the second half, with their backs against the walls.

Parisse capitalised on scrappy play in midfield, though Italy's problems in front of goal continued. Hook landed his drop goal eight minutes from time to settle the tie.

Gatland added: "We are still in contention for the championship. We've got a big game next against Ireland at home and then it's France. We've ground out two wins away from home but now we're going back to the Millennium Stadium and we want to get a result."

Italy W L McLean; A Masi (T Benvenuiti, 74), G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco; K Burton (L Orquera, 62), F Semenzato (P Canavosio, 70); S Perugini (A Lo Cicero, h-t), LGhiraldini, M Castrogiovanni (S Perugini, 70), S Dellape (V Bernabo, 50), Q Geldenhuys, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), R Barbieri (M Vosawai, 70).

Wales L Byrne; M Stoddart, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, M Phillips; P James, M Rees (capt; R Hibbard, 77), C Mitchell, B Davies, A W Jones, D Lydiate, R Jones, S Warburton.

Referee W Barnes (England).

Italy

Tries: Canale, Parisse

Pens: Bergamasco 2

Wales

Tries: Stoddart, Warburton

Con: S Jones

Pens: S Jones 3

DG: Hook

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