Wales 47 Italy 8: 'The Gatfather' offers Wales an irresistible year

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The Independent Online

Wales has at last settled on a nickname for Warren Gatland, one that is perhaps ironic considering the scale of Italian bloodshed just inflicted by his men's latest gun-down. "The Gatfather" suits the coach quite nicely. Charming one minute, ruthless the next, he stops at nothing to get the job done, yet is always entertaining. Rather like his Wales team are proving to be.

This record win – Wales have never prevailed by so many points in the tournament before – was a giant step for the Dragonhood in terms of their progression, both in their understanding of the Gatland gameplan and up the Six Nations table. There were raised eyebrows in the Vale Of Glamorgan Hotel team-room on Saturday night when John Inverdale announced that "England are now in a fantastic position to win this Championship". Either the BBC man did not have the standings in front of him or he was reading them without looking at the numbers next to Wales' name.

Sure, they are at the top courtesy of being the only side with a 100 per cent record, but their points difference is the real reason why they are 6-5 favourites to lift the trophy. They are 53 points to the good over their dear neighbours and, basically, victory over Ireland or France will land them the silverware, whatever England do.

Gatland all but confessed this at base camp yesterday, although he did stop short of helping out one enthusiastic reporter who urged him to agree that "Wales are now massive odds-on to win the Six Nations". He shook his head and laughed incredulously before declaring: "Let's just say we are in a nice position, it's in our hands." And they are looking rather adept when things are in their hands.

Their second-half annihilation of the Azzurri was Wales at their very best, with Lee Byrne and Shane Williams scoring a few crackers. There was method in the sevens-style madness, however, that has not always been there. Instead of calling off the dogs, "The Gatfather" unleashed his Lions. "We were very conscious of how points difference might settle this Championship," he said, pointing out that as Ireland coach he was denied twice on the dreaded count-back. "So the biggest thing was the tries we scored and we put a message on with 10 minutes to go to get as many as possible. They [the players] are starting to understand the type of game we want to play." Put crudely, that involves the sort of tempo and control that was always going to leave the Italians heavy-legged and breathless.

Italy were supposed to give the Welsh scrum, with their changed front row, the push-around. "So much for all that 'risk' stuff that was written," said Gatland with a smirk yesterday. "There are a couple of the forwards who are working hard and not getting a huge amount of recognition for all the donkey work and graft they are doing. The backs are getting all the credit."

Gatland pointed out that the prop Gethin Jenkins featured in 39 rucks and that the lock Ian Gough lost more than three-quarters of a stone in weight due to his exertions. This is just what the Kiwi is expecting. "I have told them I want to get to the stage where there is nothing left in the tank," he said. "I have been in All Black dressing rooms where the doctor has gone around giving injections to players because their hamstrings were tightening with cramp and they couldn't walk. They had to bring oxygen tanks in because players are so exhausted and cannot move. If we ever get to that stage, that would be cool."

Little wonder the players are still living in fear, despite three wins from three. After his man-of-the-match display, Byrne confessed he still could not be sure whether he would be selected for the Triple Crown shot at Croke Park on Saturday week. He need not be worried, even if the majority of the squad should. "He's the form full-back in this competition, in everything he does: his positional play, his defence, his running, his high-ball catching," crooned Gatland. "Lee's been just magnificent. He's the player of the tournament so far, for us."

Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Scarlets); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), R Thomas (Dragons), I Gough (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements: M Phillips (Ospreys) for Peel, 44; H Bennett (Ospreys) for Rees, 55; Deiniol Jones (Blues) for Evans, 68; J Hook (Ospreys) for Jones, 68; G Delve (Gloucester) for M Williams, 70; S Parker (Ospreys) for Henson, 71.

Italy: A Marcato (Treviso); A Scarbi (Treviso), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français),E Galon (Overmach Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), S Picone (Treviso); S Perugino (Toulouse), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), C Del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro) for Perugini, 50; M Bortolami (Gloucester) for Dellape, 50; P Buso (Calvisano) for Masi, 54; P Travagli (Overmach Parma) for Picone, 58; A Zanni (Calvisano) for Sole, 61; C Festuccia (Racing Metro) for Ghiraldini, 70.

Referee: D Pearson (England).

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