Six Nations: Ruthless Welsh are singing in the rain

Italy 9 Wales 26: Monsoon conditions can’t dampen another unspectacular but clinical display by the visitors’ to maintain their challenge for Six Nations title

Watching Wales is steadily becoming a labour of love for their supporters but at least the end result is proving worth the wait.

They kept themselves in the title race for the Six Nations with another unspectacular but ruthlessly efficient display on the road in Rome.

Amid conditions that, at times, resembled a monsoon rather than southern Italy, Wales kept a second-successive clean sheet while showing a clinical edge with tries from Jonathan Davies and  Alex Cuthbert.

After the defensive heroics in Paris, and their Grand Slam last year, it was enough to claim a fourth-successive away win in the Championship for the first time since 1979.

There was little of that Seventies flair, although even that side would surely have admired another display built on the sheer will to win at whatever cost.

It was fitting that such a limited game should have swung the visitors’ way during a calamitous five minutes at the start of the second half, when Italy fumbled a clear scoring chance before Wales pounced, and was ultimately decided following a penalty at the scrum when they grabbed a second try while Italy’s captain Martin Castrogiovanni watched from the sin bin.

It is hard to recall the last time that Rome has hosted a Six Nations game in such a downpour, although the Azzurri would have welcomed the conditions given their depenency upon the set piece.

Certainly it did not help hooker Richard Hibbard, off target with his first two lineouts, and despite possessing the heftier pack, Wales’ problems at the scrums in the opening two games resurfaced.

Formerly a platform of reliability and strength from which the likes of Jamie Roberts could thrive, the Welsh front-row has too often creaked in this tournament.

Adam Jones was penalised four times at the set piece in Paris, and while Wales were unhappy with the way they were handled against Ireland by referee Romain Poite, the French official singled out Gethin Jenkins in the game’s first scrum here. It was to prove the story of  the half.

To Wales’ frustration, Burton’s penalty not only cancelled out Halfpenny’s earlier effort, but galvanised the raucous home support, having been silenced by the visitor’s promising start.

Jones, Hibbard and Jenkins exacted their revenge with a series of devastating drives that twice enabled Halfpenny to kick Wales further ahead, to lead 9-3 on 20 minutes, though the lottery of the scrum allowed Burton to close the gap before half-time.

Given the handling skills, or lack of them, in the often torrential rain, it appeared the only way either side were going to score.

Alex Cuthbert’s fumble handed Italy an attacking position, only for them to knock-on before Burton sliced his attempt to drop a goal.

Wales fared little better and Halfpenny pushed his effort wide before half-time and then almost gifted Italy a try just after the restart.

Mike Phillips fumbled Burton’s chip over the Welsh rush defence, Italy got a boot to the ball ahead of Halfpenny but Tommaso Benvenuti failed to collect, with the line at his mercy, under pressure from Dan Biggar. Burton then sliced another drop goal from in front of the posts.

Wales wasted no time in making Italy pay, though they benefited from yet more shambolic defending.

Biggar hoisted a speculative kick but had the tenacity to chase and even regain possession. Phillips capitalised on clear space behind with a clever chip and with Edoardo Gori and Burton looking to each other to sweep up, Davies was left with time to safely collect and touch down with his first touch of the ball.

Burton clawed back a third penalty after Halfpenny had converted, but momentum inextricably swung Wales’ way when Poite ran out of patience and brandished a yellow card for Castrogiovanni after yet another scrum went to ground.

Again Wales capitalised on the chance, kicking upfield from where Biggar out-foxed the Italian defence with one well-aimed pass that found Cuthbert’s run. Italy could not lay a hand upon the wing once he was clear and he darted into the corner for the seventh try of his still-blooming Test career.

Halfpenny guided his conversion through the uprights from out wide and Wales were too smart, and Italy too limited, to make the final  19 minutes nothing less than  a formality.

Italy captain Martin Castrogiovanni had no complaints after seeing his side suffer a second successive comprehensive Six Nations reversal.

He said: “We conceded nine points from scrums, which is my problem as well as the team’s. I need to work on that.

“The referee is always right. If we had done what we were told and also managed our kicking better, maybe the referee wouldn’t have mattered so much.”

Italy:  A Masi, G Venditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale (G Garcia, 64), L McLean, K Burton, E Gori (T Botes, 65); A Lo Cicero  (A De Marchi, 55), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon, 55), M Castrogiovanni, A Pavanello, F Minto (Q Geldenhuys, 55), A Zanni  (P Derbyshire, 70), S Favaro, R Vosawei (L Cittadini, 65-69).  

Wales: L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts  (S Williams, 70), G North, D Biggar (J Hook, 69), M Phillips (L Williams, 64); G Jenkins (P James, 46), R Hibbard  (K Owens, 52), A Jones (C Mitchell, 74), A Coombs (A Jones, 52), I Evans, R Jones (S Warburton, 69), J Tipuric, T Faletau.  Referee: R Poite (France)