George North seals bonus-point win for Wales against Italy
Azzurri on course for the Wooden Spoon while Wales could finish in second place
George North scores Wales’ fourth try against Italy in Cardiff. Photograph:David Davies/PA
Wales 38-14 Italy
Wales moved to second in the table with an ultimately comfortable victory over Italy, who suffered their 16th successive Six Nations reverse and will scoop the wooden spoon for the fourth time in five seasons. In their previous two home matches, against South Africa and Scotland, Wales were 14-0 up within 11 minutes and they continued the trend with two tries in the first six minutes through Hadleigh Parkes and George North before tapering off for the rest of the half.
James Davies, making his debut at open-side flanker, won a turnover after Italy’s full-back Mattel Minozzi had slipped while attempting a counter-attack. Wales kicked to touch and after a few forward rumbles, Parkes stepped back against the defensive drift to catch out Sergio Parisse and Tommaso Castello.
The latter got his head in the wrong place and was momentarily knocked out. Italy were unscrambling their heads when, after winning the ball back from the restart, Maxime Mbanda threw out a loose pass in Wales’s 22 that was picked up by Owen Watkin.
The centre took play to Italy’s 22 where he found George North in support for the wing to score his seventh try in eight starts against Italy. A side showing 10 personnel changes from the previous round had clicked quickly, but on each occasion profiting from a mistake.
Most of the rest of the half belonged to Italy. They scored a try on 10 minutes when Marcelo Violi’s delayed pass gave Minozzi the room to score in the left-hand corner with North on the floor after a tackle, but wasted other opportunities, twice opting for line-outs rather than kicks for goal and getting nowhere.
They enjoyed 65 per cent of the possession in the opening period, but went into the interval 17-7 down when Gareth Anscombe kicked a penalty after 36 minutes following another mistake, a knock-on in midfield from a scrum that was compounded by Jayden Hayward playing the ball in an offside position.
Wales went into the break a man short after Liam Williams received a yellow card for making contact with Minozzi’s head with his shoulder as the Italy full-back fielded the ball behind his line, but the imbalance in numbers counted for nothing when, after Minozzi’s clearance behind his line was charged down by Gareth Davies, Wales scored from the scrum when North’s charge was supported by Cory Hill.
Gareth Davies had had a try ruled out on 17 minutes when he chased Steff Evans’s chip and scored only to be judged offside. He joined Williams in the sin-bin after 48 minutes for a deliberate knock-on, but Italy wasted the penalty after kicking for touch by losing the lineout.
Wales’s back row combined on 55 minutes after Anscombe’s chip, but Steff Evans knocked on 10 metres out. Parkes thought he had secured the bonus point only for his try to be ruled out despite seeming to ground the ball, but Italy’s reprieve was measured in seconds when North scored from the resulting scrum.
Justin Tipuric scored Wales’s fifth try with nine minutes to go after Parkes’s lobbed pass before Mattia Bellini. Victory over France here on Saturday will confirm them as runners-up to Ireland unless England go berserk against the champions at Twickenham.
Wales: L Williams; North, Watkin, Parkes, S Evans, Anscombe, G Davies; Smith, Dee, Francis, Hill, B Davies, Tipuric, James Davies, Faletau (capt).
Replacements: Owens, R Evans, R Jones , S Davies, Jenkins, A Davies, Patchell, Halfpenny.
Italy: Minozzi; Benvenuti, Bisegni, Castello, Bellini; Allan, Violi; Lovotti, Ghiraldini, Ferrari, Zanni, Budd, Negri, Mbanda, Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Fabiani, Quaglio, Pasquali, Ruzza, Licata, Palazzani, Canna, Hayward.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France). – Guardian service