Scrumhalf Rhys Webb produced a superb individual display in his first start for six years to inspire Wales to a 29-17 bonus-point victory over error-strewn Italy in Saturday’s Six Nations fixture in Rome.
The win eases the pressure on coach Warren Gatland as Wales seek to avoid their first Six Nations wooden spoon for 20 years.
But for Italy it is a 25th successive home loss in the competition having come into the game with much hope of victory.
Webb set up tries for wing Rio Dyer and number eight Taulupe Faletau, while there was also a solo effort from fullback Liam Williams and a penalty try as Wales move above Italy in the table.
The home side tried to attack with ball in hand at every opportunity and from all positions on the field, but 10 handling errors cost them points. Their two tries came from flanker Sebastian Negri and centre Juan Ignacio Brex.
“I thought we deserved to win today, and with the bonus point which was great,” Gatland told S4C. “There’s still a massive amount of growth in this team in terms of them going forward.
“A lot of players will have learned a lot about themselves today and it wasn’t a bad Italian side.”
Gatland singled out Webb for praise, saying he: “played outstandingly well. His decision making was excellent, he didn’t force anything and kept us on the front foot”.
Wales took their try-scoring chances well, something Gatland has constantly criticised the team for not doing in this Six Nations, and they edged the set-piece battle as they led 22-3 at halftime.
Italy, not helped by two yellow cards, did find holes in the Wales line, but the scrambling defence to keep them out was by and large effective – although the 14 penalties conceded, one more than Italy, remains a concern.
Kieran Crowley’s home side will have targeted this game for a rare victory and while they showed the same enterprise that has won them plaudits through this Six Nations, the execution was poor as Wales pressured them into mistakes.
Webb was superb in controlling the game and his kick behind the Italian defence allowed Dyer to score the first try, though the wing was aided by a wicked bounce of the ball that wrong-footed the Italian defenders.
The scrumhalf was also provider for Faletau as he burst through a gap at a ruck and set the loose-forward in to score.
Williams scored a fine solo effort and he barged his way down the right touchline and beat five innocuous tackles to score.
Wales then turned down a simple three points to instead kick for the corner and their ambition was rewarded with a penalty try as their maul was illegally stopped by Italy’s Lorenzo Cannone, who was sent to the sin bin.
Italy scored their first try as Tommaso Allan’s chip kick behind the Welsh defence was perfect for Negri to run onto, before Brex dived over from close range.