Jonathan Davies: Gatland's men are good, and getting better

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The Independent Online

Wales are still prospering under their new management, but if you burrow deep into this resounding victory you will discover a few elements of their game that need to be sharpened up before they travel to face Ireland in two weeks' time.

That might be splitting hairs but that's the way things are these days, when reality rules over dreams in the Welsh camp.

The fact they lost four line-outs and made 24 errors will no doubt feature prominently in their match inquest but there are more than enough highly satisfying Welsh statistics to balance those.

They made 19 offloads against Italy's five and in the tackle count Wales made 56 and missed three while the Italians made 135 tackles and missed 20.

Wales will also be encouraged by their overall play in what was a great result for them. The difference between their current form and what we saw in the World Cup and prior to that tournament is amazing.

They are not only capable of upping the tempo, but they are also using their brains, playing a thinking game, and their management of play has improved out of sight. They have learned to be patient and not to run bad ball. If it is not there to be run they wait for the opportunity.

They need to work on their kicking game. I realise they were kicking mainly for position rather than touch yesterday but it got loose at times. If they kick that untidily against Ireland and France they will be making trouble for themselves.

Again the forwards held their own against a tough pack who are expert at slowing down the ball and Rhys Thomas, at tight-head, did well enough to silence a few critics.

More importantly, Wales had the self-belief to keep plugging away even when things didn't seem to be going their way. And they didn't show any sign of relaxing when the game looked to be won – that would be fatal, with competition for places so keen at the moment.

Lee Byrne was my man of the match. He had an excellent game at full-back and I am impressed at how his game has grown. He brings great confidence to the back line. Apart from his two tries, he was composed and sure under the high ball and he came into the line well.

Stephen Jones had a very good game and Shane Williams is truly a wonder. Sonny Parker and Mike Phillips had a big impact when they came on. To have players showing individual inspiration as well as contributing to the team effort is a great strength.

Considering that Italy came back so strongly in the second half against Ireland and England, it was to Wales' credit that they scored 34 unanswered points after the interval.

But they had done the damage with the tempo they set early on and it was the sheer weight of that tackling stint that helped to drain the visitors of the energy needed to cope with the swarming Welsh in the final 20 minutes.

Italy did enough in the first half to give themselves a sliver of hope but although they defended well and valiantlythat is when Wales laid the foundations of their victory.

By spreading their defensive wall wide, Italy proved a tough nut for Wales to crack, and when an overthrown Welsh line-out close to their line let in the excellent Martin Castrogiovanni to power over for the game's first try after 12 minutes, there was little for Wales to feel comfortable about.

There was even less 10 minutes later. Had Gonzalo Canale caught the ball with the line at his mercy in the 21st minute the scoreline would have looked a bit sick to Welsh eyes. But the game started to turn Wales' way when Byrne scored the first of his tries several minutes later.

We know it will be different at Croke Park, when it will be even more of an arm-wrestle up front. Because they are at home Ireland will be the favourites but Wales are improving steadily and so far have found an answer to every problem the opposition have set.

Ireland might be the biggest problem yet but Wales are carrying some serious momentum at the moment.

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