Cardiff – George North starred as Wales assured themselves of second place in
the Six Nations with a record 67-14 thrashing of Italy at the
Principality Stadium on Saturday.
The first match of Saturday’s
final day of the Championship was over as a contest before half-time
with Wales 27-0 up at the break following tries by Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar
and Jonathan Davies.
Six more tries followed after the break, with replacement Ross Moriarty scoring twice.
the final score and their 53-point margin of victory saw Wales surpass
their previous bests against Italy achieved in a 61-20 win in Rome last
Defeat meant Italy finished bottom of the table after five
straight defeats, with French coach Jacques Brunel losing his last game
in charge of the Azzurri.
For the second week in a row Italy,
wooden spoonists for the 11th time since joining the Six Nations in
2000, conceded nine tries in a match after their 58-15 hammering by
Ireland in Dublin.
Wales were desperate to finish on a high
after last weekend’s 25-21 defeat by England at Twickenham, allied to
Scotland’s win over France, scuppered their title hopes.
Gatland made several changes, mostly injury-enforced, to a side that
left itself with too much to do against England after falling 16-0
behind at half-time.
Dan Lydiate was given the captaincy after Sam Warburton was ruled out with concussion.
Wales have been criticised for a grinding approach, even when winning this tournament.
But there was nothing sluggish about their start on Saturday, with Webb scoring in the fourth minute.
Jamie Roberts charged through midfield and a chip over the top led to a Welsh line-out close to Italy’s line.
making his first Wales start since September after he missed last
year’s World Cup with a foot injury, broke off the back of an ensuing
maul and found a gap in the visitors’ defence.
Fly-half Biggar converted and then extended Wales’s lead with a penalty.
then avoided conceding another try but at the cost of scrum-half
Guglielmo Palazanni being sent to the sin-bin by French referee Romain
Poite after he prevented Webb taking a quick tap penalty.
Biggar landed the easy kick and Wales led 13-0, with Italy a man down.
continued to attack but handling errors and a penchant for the floated
pass scuppered potential try-scoring moves before a successful exchange
between Biggar and centre Roberts in the face of weak tackling sent the
outside-half in between the posts.
Biggar duly converted, but at
20-0 to Wales, after just 29 minutes, the match had the feel of a
training session rather than an international.
Minutes later, Wales had their third converted try and best of the half.
wing North broke clear from deep in the Welsh 22 and passed infield to
Biggar who, with the Italian defence in retreat, sent in onrushing
centre Jonathan Davies.
Roberts went in at the corner early in the
second half with Biggar, for once, missing the conversion, although
Wales were now 32-0 ahead.
The imposing North had Wales’s fifth
try when his break and swerving run from halfway saw him surge past
Italy replacement Luke McLean and through a non-existent defence.
Italy avoided being ‘nilled’ with Palazanni going over following a close-range line-out.
But barely a minute later Wales had their sixth try when Roberts and Davies combined to set up full-back Liam Williams.
Italy centre Gonzalo Garcia then crossed for a converted try only for Wales to respond through Moriarty.
looked as if Odiete had scored a late intercept try that saw him run
the length of the field but he was called back for offside.
Odiete retreated, a quick tap sent in Moriarty before, in the final
minute, replacement Gareth Davies scored Wales’s ninth try.