Welsh wizards give Hansen a perfect farewell

Wales 44 Italy 10
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As endings go it was not bad. Steve Hansen is the only outgoing Wales coach to be cheered. But it was not just a send-off. It is also a beginning. The Wales players, to a man, ushered in the new era under Mike Ruddock in style. And when asked if his successor should be excited at what he was inheriting, Hansen said: "Well I'd be bloody excited if I was getting hold of these players. I think in another 12 months we will see some fantastic players coming out of the forwards." There were some pretty fantastic players on the Millennium Stadium pitch yesterday, all of whom contributed mightily to the six-try rout.

As endings go it was not bad. Steve Hansen is the only outgoing Wales coach to be cheered. But it was not just a send-off. It is also a beginning. The Wales players, to a man, ushered in the new era under Mike Ruddock in style. And when asked if his successor should be excited at what he was inheriting, Hansen said: "Well I'd be bloody excited if I was getting hold of these players. I think in another 12 months we will see some fantastic players coming out of the forwards." There were some pretty fantastic players on the Millennium Stadium pitch yesterday, all of whom contributed mightily to the six-try rout.

John Kirwan bemoaned the missed tackles and high turnover count which undermined Italy's best intentions. "That was our worst performance of the Six Nations. It is not a great way to finish," he said. He still gave credit to Wales, who delivered what they had promised, an exciting open game. Indeed it appeared the whole team were determined not to get sucked into close-quarter combat with the Azzurri.

More often than not a Welsh forward would sling out a long pass as bodies closed in and Wales were able to maintain their width, and consequently keep their foot on the proverbial gas.

It was not a flawless display - the set piece still creaked and the line-out drew groans from the fervent fans - but it was still spectacular. It was exciting even when Wales were not scoring tries. Mark Taylor's 36th-minute effort was disallowed because he knocked on over the line but the build-up was electric, with the hugely talented lock Michael Owen scattering all before him prior to offloading to Shane Williams, who then found Taylor.

But by then Wales had already run in two tries. There had clearly been a conscious decision to impose their own style of play - fast and wide - on the opposition, rather than wait to see what Italy had to offer. The Italians were generally over eager in the loose, which presented Colin Charvis and Martyn Williams with some fast foraging opportunities.

It needed video confirmation before Shane Williams was awarded Wales' opening try after Rhys Williams had got close on the right, but there were no doubts when the latter scored his first after half an hour. It had still needed a brilliant break by Gareth Cooper, which peeled back the Italian cover like a tin of anchovies. Gareth Thomas took it on, drew the defence, then fed Williams, who raced over in the right-hand corner. The only blemish was Stephen Jones's failure to convert either try, but since he was having an otherwise marvellous game, getting his backs going at every opportunity and kicking beautifully out of hand if nothing was on, the place kicking did not really matter. Anyway, he had already landed two early penalties.

Welsh discipline had been commendable in the opening half, when the Italians did not get a shot at goal, but that changed after the break when they transgressed three times in the opening 10 minutes. Fly-half Roland de Marigny converted one attempt.

But it was Wales's wide game that everyone had come to watch, and they did not disappoint. They soon ignored the tight channels and spread it. They were rewarded with a little piece of Welsh rugby history when the ball found its way into the clutches of Gareth Thomas who scored his 34th try for Wales, thus surpassing the previous record, held by Ieuan Evans.

The Dragons were rampant. Steam, smoke and all sorts of vapours were leaving their nostrils as they scented a massacre. Five minutes later Tom Shanklin, on the pitch for 30 seconds, was put over for Wales's fourth. Then the Williams boys, Rhys and Shane, struck within a couple of minutes of each other. The 72,500 crowd went wild, baying for more. The fact that Italy had managed a try of their own amid the mayhem, when centre Andrea Masi found a way through, was an irrelevance.

Wales: G Thomas (Warriors); R Williams (Blues), M Taylor (Scarlets), I Harris (Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Warriors); Duncan Jones (Ospreys), R McBryde (Scarlets), G Jenkins (Warriors), G Llewellyn (Ospreys), M Owen (Dragons), C Charvis (Tarbes, capt), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets), M Williams (Blues). Replacements: M Davies (Warriors) for McBryde, 75; B Evans (Blues) for Duncan Jones, 80; R Sidoli (Warriors) for Owen, 80; A Popham (Leeds) for Dafydd Jones, 77; D Peel (Scarlets) for Cooper, 74; C Sweeney (Warriors) for S Jones, 74; T Shanklin (Blues) for Harris, 60.

Italy: G Canale (Treviso); N Mazzucato (Calvisano), A Masi (Viadana), C Stoica (Montpellier), D Dallan (Treviso); R De Marigny (Overmach Parma), P Griffen (Calvisano); A Lo Cicero (Lazio), F Ongaro (Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano), S Dellape (Treviso), C Del Fava (Overmach Parma), M Bortolami (Padova), A De Rossi (Calvisano, capt), A Persico (Leeds). Replacements: S Perugini (Calvisano) for Castrogiovanni, 59; R Mandelli (Calvisano) for Del Fava, 59; S Orlando (Treviso) for Persico, 13-24, 41; S Picone (Treviso) for Masi, 76; R Wakarua (Brescia) for Mazzucato, 56, Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français) for Dallan, 55.

Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).

Tries: S Williams 2, R Williams 2 Try: Masi

G Thomas, Shanklin

Cons: S Jones 4 Con: Wakarua

Pens: S Jones 2 Pen: De Marigny



Half-time: 16-0 Attendance: 72,500

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