Wales v Italy: Six Nations Round 1

The opening match of the 2020 Six Nations was in Cardiff, with Wales taking on Italy. It was a match that had a bit of most things you would expect in a rugby match; some good kicking, poor defence and excellent try-scoring, to start with anyway.

The home side’s early defence made me a little concerned, as I saw a few gaps appearing that I thought actually could be plugged a bit better – I think this was maybe down to a lack of leadership there initially. We aren’t used to this, as defence was one of the things that Wales prided themselves on last year when they won the tournament. However, this wasn’t a major issue, and it was certainly overshadowed by their attack in the first half.

I thought scrum-half Tomos Williams was the best player of the first half, and was almost conducting his orchestra at times it seemed. Being the number 9, he was obviously positioned in the middle of the pitch, but he used this to great effect. Everything good for Wales in attack came from or involved him, and not just passing – he was driving forwards as well and trying to gain ground for his team.

The other thing I noticed about Wales was the calmness that they had during the first half. I’m not saying this is abnormal for them, but it just seemed like every time they lost the ball, they shrugged it off, and waited for the penalty to come, which, unfortunately for Italy, it did quite a lot in the first half. At that point, Dan Biggar just put each one away with ease. From that point of view, it wasn’t a half in which Wales were challenged to much.

The first try came simply because Wales managed to drag Italy into the middle of the pitch, leaving the wing open for attack. There was an overlap available there, and Wales managed to work the ball well to that wing to use the overlap, and Josh Adams went over with relative ease. The second wasn’t too dissimilar, in that it involve Adams and some good ball movement again. Wales managed to slow the ball down and catch the Italians out when they sped up the pass, allowing Adams to squeeze over.

In the second half, it did show that Wales had the slight edge by having an experienced player like Leigh Halfpenny at the back, because it meant that they could attack forwards with everything they had, knowing that they didn’t leave a young full back with no cover or protection, because Halfpenny leads from the back and knows what he’s doing on a rugby pitch.

Their third try came from a great break by Cory Hill, carrying on the theme of Wales driving forwards, and debutant Saracens centre Nick Tompkins was positioned in the middle of the pitch just behind him to take the ball on and run to the line. All of this came from another Italian error though, which just shows really as far as this match went.

As far as the Azzurri were concerned, it looked like interim coach Franco Smith had set them up to attack, as they were really driving forwards, often being led by Wasps full back Matteo Minozzi in these moments. They also managed to take advantage of Wales’ aforementioned defensive gaps by driving into these, with Gloucester’s Jake Polledri often finding space to open Wales up slightly – he in particular showed great strength in these moments. Unfortunately for Italy, these moments soon ended as Wales took full control of the half.

They did seem to have some OK moments in this match, despite the scoreline, but what was constantly costing them was the individual errors that they made all the time. Every time they gained some ground, they threw it away by coming in at the side or committing a knock on offence, or something as basic as that. This meant that they were never able to get any momentum going, and that was the telling difference.

They brought on full back Jayden Hayward in the second half, removing wing Leonardo Sarto, and that was an interesting move. I think perhaps Franco Smith saw that Matteo Minozzi is an attacking full-back, as most are nowadays, but at the same time, he probably also saw that if he moved Minozzi to the wing, with Bellini, who was quiet by his standards, on the other wing, then it would allow the Wasps player to not have to think about getting back to defend all the time. Instead, Hayward would have that role, and to be fair to him, Hayward did prove to be a really useful option in Minozzi’s injury absence in last year’s tournament.

Everything unravelled for Italy after the third try, and despite North’s first try being disallowed for a correct knock on spot by the TMO (credit where it is due), it always seemed inevitable that the fourth and bonus point would come. This time, Italy were let off when they found themselves in a three v one situation, but you could see from this point that the Italians had lost all their confidence and, in all honesty, were being steamrollered by Wales. The later fourth (George North’s 40th try for Wales – congratulations to him) and fifth (hat-trick for Josh Adams) just piled the misery on for them. I said in my preview that Josh Adams would be among the tournament’s top scorers, and he already has three now.

At times in the second half, Franco Smith was seen shaking his head in apparent disbelief at some of the mistakes Italy were making, and it isn’t hard to see why. Last year, I praised Italy for some of their play, but there was nothing to be happy about in this one.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

There were plenty of excellent performances for Wales. Adam Wainwright was brilliant throughout, Tomos Williams directed play before he was substituted, but Justin Tipuric was the player it is going to be given to, because he led from the front, and was top of the charts for tackles made in the match.

NEXT UP:

Things don’t get any easier for Italy, as they face a tough trip to Paris next Sunday afternoon. In my preview, I said they would possibly get something from that match, but not if they play like this. For Wales, they are also on the road, as they go to the Aviva Stadium to face Ireland at lunchtime on Saturday.

 

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