Rugby

Wales routs Italy to begin Six Nations title defense

AP

The post-Warren Gatland era got into full swing for Wales with a 42-0 win over Italy that started its Six Nations title defense in impressive fashion and featured one shining example of the attacking play desired by new coach Wayne Pivac.

There was a look of contentment on Pivac’s face after one of the five tries scored by his team, in particular, when flyhalf Dan Biggar threw a flat pass between his legs — while looking the wrong way near Italy’s line — to send winger Josh Adams over in the left corner.

“Wayne’s World” — as some are labeling Pivac’s Wales tenure —certainly looked like a fun place to be as his team powered to a 21-0 lead after 31 minutes against an opponent also under a new coach in South African Franco Smith.

Capping a dominant display was the sight of George North burrowing his way over the line with three minutes left for his 40th international try to clinch the attacking bonus point, which is commonplace against the Italians these days.

Adams added the last try in stoppage time to clinch his hat trick, and Nick Tompkins claimed the other after coming off the bench for his debut.

Pivac will also be delighted with keeping Italy scoreless, as the Welsh maintained the strong defense which served them so well under Gatland in his 12-year reign that ended after the recent Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“It was a pretty good performance,” Pivac said. “We got the five points we were after but it wasn’t easy, we had to work hard for it.

“I’m very pleased to have held them scoreless. That doesn’t happen often at this level of the game.”

Biggar kicked three penalties in the opening 16 minutes as Wales went ahead 9-0, before a flowing backs move sent the hosts even further ahead two minutes later. It ended with Biggar sending the ball out wide to Adams, the leading try-scorer in the World Cup, and he raced down the touchline before forcing his way over the line just inside the corner flag.

Adams doubled his try tally for the afternoon after that wonderful piece of creativity from Biggar which drew gasps from the crowd and a big grin from Pivac in his coaching box high up in Principality Stadium.

Italy held firm at the start of the second half until flanker Justin Tipuric forced a turnover, lock Cory Hill rampaged forward, and Tompkins raced onto a pop-up pass at a ruck to sidestep his way over near the posts in the 59th.

It was then just a case of whether Wales would grab the bonus point, and North duly delivered — having had a try disallowed earlier for a knock-on in the buildup.

And there was still time for Adams to complete his hat trick and make it 10 tries in his last eight international appearances.

“He was a top try scorer on the biggest stage so he’s got to be right up there, that has to speak for itself really,” Pivac said when asked where he rated Adams on the world stage. “With Stephen (Jones) running the attack and the way we want to play the game, I think wingers will get more opportunities.

“I don’t think he’ll be too fazed by the way we want to play the game. I think he’ll enjoy it. I liked his last try. He could have easily just parked up out on his wing but, after more than 80 minutes, he’s in close to the ruck looking for the ball and using his strengths to get over the tryline.”

Italy didn’t win a match in the last four Six Nations and, without talismanic No. 8 Sergio Parisse likely until the final round of this year’s tournament as he slips into retirement, the drought could easily extend to five years

“I feel there is change in Italy coming, the way we want to play, the way we see the future,” said Smith, who is in charge on an interim basis after the sudden departure of Conor O’Shea after the World Cup. “It wasn’t a lack of commitment, a lack of ability. It was errors that forced us into defending too much and then chasing a lead of 14 and later on 21 points.

“I can understand there’s questions around it (Italy’s place in the Six Nations), it makes sense. But I still believe that what I know from Italian rugby and what I think is coming — the under-20s beat Wales on Friday night — that there is a good group of people coming through. I believe Italian rugby will make the step up.”