Wales took another step towards the Grand Slam when they beat Italy 24-3 in Cardiff.
The Welsh will go into their match against France at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday as firm favourites, but need to up their game substantially if they’re to claim a third Slam in eight years. They could only score two tries against the limited Italians, a long-range effort from centre Jamie Roberts that came from a turnover near their 22, and a late score by right wing Alex Cuthbert.
Wales were reduced to 14 men with 20 minutes to go when fullback Leigh Halfpenny took Italy captain Sergio Parisse out in the air. However, the visitors never looked like scoring a try and a penalty from flyhalf Rhys Priestland put the result beyond doubt.
Warren Gatland’s side led just 9-3 at half-time despite having 62% of the possession and 71% of the territory. The Italian defence was superb (they made 76 first-half tackles compared to the hosts’ 14) and Parisse’s try-saving tackle on Halfpenny was just one example of the commitment they showed when under the cosh.
Halfpenny was successful with all three of his penalty attempts in the first 40 while left wing Mirco Bergamasco kicked one for the visitors, who surprisingly opted to boot another kickable penalty into touch just before half-time (only to concede a penalty after winning the lineout).
It seemed to be just a matter of time before the dam wall broke, but apart from the Roberts try that came against the run of play and Cuthbert’s try with three minutes to go, the Italian defence stood firm and kept the score respectable in the second half.
By Simon Borchardt