Replacement Tom Shanklin’s late try earned Wales a 20-15 victory over a gutsy Italy in Rome.
The victory keeps Wales’ title hopes alive, but the diabolical performance from the Dragons certainly won’t send any shock waves through the Irish camp ahead of the two sides’ clash at the Millennium Stadium in two week’s time.
Wales made wholesale changes to their side, and struggled to find any continuity and had Nick Mallett’s men been more clinical the result could have been very different. Italy had the upper hand at scrum time and were the better side for the bulk of the game.
Italy started the better of the two sides and deservedly got on the scoreboard in the fifth minute through an Andrea Marcato penalty.
As the first quarter came to a close, Wales started to get a foothold on the game and had an opportunity to level matters, but James Hook surprisingly squandered the chance. Despite the miss, the momentum was slowly starting to swing the way of Wales and they were finally rewarded after a good period of play when Gavin Henson put through Shane Williams, who stepped the last defender with ease before rounding off the move under the poles.
Wales were undone by indiscipline as they gave away two penalties in quick succession which Marcato slotted to put his side back in front.
With time running out in the half, Italy were awarded a five-metre attacking scrum. The men in blue destroyed the Welsh pack and looked destined to cross the line. But the visitors’ defence stood up to the challenge and Marcato decided to go for the drop-goal attempt which sailed wide, prompting the referee to blow for half-time.
Italy were the better side at the start of the second stanza and just before the hour mark Marcato added a fourth penalty for Mallett’s men. With that, the crowd began to believe that one of the greatest Six Nations upsets was indeed a possibility.
But from the restart Italy’s discipline let them down as they gave Hook the chance to reduce the gap to just two points. The Welsh flyhalf snapped over the penalty attempt with to silence the Italian fans.
Italy’s tank looked severely drained by this stage and yet another indiscretion at the breakdown gave Hook push his side into the lead.
Shanklin then changed the outlook of the game in a matter of minutes. First his offence at the tackle point saw Marceto put his side back in front, but from the restart Hook put the veteran into space. Shanklin sold a beautiful dummy before crossing the line for Wales’s second try. Hook calmly slotted the difficult conversion to make it 20-15 to the Dragons.
By Andrew Worling