Wales have Grand Slam in sights after comfortable Italy win

Wales 24 Italy 3

Wales will go for RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam glory against France next Saturday after completing a successful Italian job at the Millennium Stadium.

The World Cup semi-finalists will effectively put one hand on Six Nations silverware tomorrow, given their vastly-superior points difference, if England beat Les Bleus in Paris.

But the real party is planned for seven days' time when Wales aim to be crowned kings of Europe.

Italy trailed by just six points at the interval - Leigh Halfpenny kicking three penalties to Mirco Bergamasco's one - and the Azzurri's admirable defensive resilience unexpectedly made Wales toil.

Wales were restricted to two tries - a 50th-minute solo effort from centre Jamie Roberts which Halfpenny converted, and wing Alex Cuthbert's late touchdown - while fly-half Rhys Priestland slotted a penalty after Halfpenny had been yellow-carded.

It was comfortable enough in the end, but Wales know they will need to considerably sharpen their attacking game when France come calling in seven days' time.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips and centre Jonathan Davies were Wales' stand-put performers, while flanker Dan Lydiate put in his usual punishing shift at the coalface, yet Italy deserve much of the credit from a contest that bristled but never burst into life.

The Azzurri could easily have rolled over and allowed Wales to cut loose, but their defensive organisation and spirit meant the cakewalk many had predicted for coach Warren Gatland's team did not materialise.

A second Six Nations title and Grand Slam of Gatland's four-year reign now awaits Wales, the previous one have been achieved against France in Cardiff.

Prop Gethin Jenkins captained Wales with Sam Warburton sidelined due to a knee injury, while Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric made his first Test start and fit-again hooker Matthew Rees reclaimed the number two shirt almost a year after he last wore it.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel made seven changes from the side routed by Ireland in Dublin, yet they went into battle with not even their inspirational skipper Sergio Parisse believing there was much hope of an away win.

Wales' coaching team had stressed the need for a dominant opening 20 minutes, and immediate signs looked good when juggernaut wings George North and Cuthbert both enjoyed defence-splitting midfield runs.

But after missing a number of early tackles, Italy showed signs of settling under Parisse's assured leadership, and Wales were restricted to a long-range Halfpenny penalty that Bergamasco cancelled out just two minutes later.

The visitors, though, found themselves living off scraps of possession, and what meaningful ball they did secure was immediately kicked back to Wales by fly-half Kristopher Burton.

Wales had to be patient, but with their much-vaunted back division eager for work, chances were created at increasingly-regular intervals, suggesting that Italy's defence could only hold out for so long.

A second Halfpenny penalty - he reached 50 points in the tournament as a result - edged Wales back in front, and they continued their siege of Italy's 22.

But a combination of superb Italian defence and occasional over-eagerness by Welsh attackers meant the Azzurri restricted their opponents to one more Halfpenny penalty as a tryless opening period ended 9-3 in Wales' favour.

And the most telling statistic came via a punishing tackle-count that saw Italy make 76 challenges compared with Wales' 14.

Wales huffed and puffed for 10 minutes after the break, yet they finally breached Italy's defence when Rhys Priestland found Roberts, whose angled 40-metre run took him clear and over for a try that Halfpenny converted.

Halfpenny then spent 10 minutes off the field, sin-binned by referee George Clancy for an aerial challenge on Parisse when he had clearly gone for the ball and not the opposition player.

Wales, though, still had time to make their overwhelming territorial control and wealth of possession count as substitutes Ken Owens and Luke Charteris arrived for the final quarter.

But with the job done at 16-3 ahead, Gatland continued to sensibly use his substitutes, sending on Ryan Jones, Paul James, Twickenham try hero Scott Williams and scrum-half Rhys Webb for his Test debut.

Priestland slotted a 70th-minute penalty that left the Italians 16 points adrift, and then strong-running Cuthbert added a second try two minutes from time

Wales were good value for the win, yet it was very much a case of the calm before storm as a whole country begins whipping itself into a state of Grand Slam frenzy.

PA

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice