Wales 38-18 Italy: Hosts end disappointing autumn with victory over whipping boys… but unconvincing performance means coach Wayne Pivac remains under pressure after late show saves blushes
- Wales led after Kieran Hardy and Sam Parry scored their first international tries
- Italy then briefly turned the contest on its head thanks to two tries of their own
- Taulupe Faletau led the charge as Wales roared back with three more tries to win
Taulupe Faletau fired Wales out of their winter of discontent to make sure their terrible 2020 did not end in flames.
The sensational No 8 has struggled for at least 18 months after successive injuries, but here he looked back to his supreme best. And how Wayne Pivac needed him.
With 25 minutes to go the long knives would have been sharpening at the Welsh Rugby Union.
Taulupe Faletau was Wales’ star player as Wales eventually wore down Italy in the second half
Justin Tipuric rounded off the afternoon’s try-scoring in a match played behind closed doors
When Wales were 18-17 down to an Italian side who had not beaten a Six Nations side in 39 attempts, staring one of their worst ever years in the face, the reasons to dispense of the coach were outweighing those to keep him.
But Pivac’s senior men kept their heads when all about them were losing theirs.
A late charge – with three tries in the final 23 minutes from Gareth Davies, George North and Justin Tipuric – papered over widening cracks in the Welsh game.
For all Wales’ faults, Faletau could not count for any of them. Imperious alongside Tipuric he set up two tries, wriggled through tackles like an eel, and found a groove he has not enjoyed for many months.
Kieran Hardy (pictured) and Sam Parry scored their first Wales tries to give the hosts daylight
Italy had scores from Marco Zanon and Johan Meyer, as Paolo Garbisi kicked the rest, but yet again they ran out of gas in the final stages when promising so much.
‘It wasn’t the 80-minute performance we wanted,’ said Pivac who saw Alun Wyn Jones go off with a medial knee ligament injury, and Liam Williams with an ankle sprain.
‘But it was the right direction. We asked some questions of players and got some answers.
‘I was pleased the team found their composure. The first 20 minutes, they were comfortable but they maybe mentally took their foot off.
‘We had to readdress that.’ And Pivac thinks Wales’ fitness work over the past two weeks finally paid off.
The boot of Paolo Garbisi helped keep Franco Smith’s men in the contest at Parc y Scarlets
‘When we did the fitness testing in week one, we were well behind the eight ball,’ he added.
‘They didn’t come out of club rugby too well, to be honest.
‘We finished that game very strongly. We certainly weren’t able to do that at the start of the competition.
‘Taulupe is one of many guys that have benefited from the work he has done over the last eight weeks.
‘You’ve got to say that he’s back to near his best.’ Faleatu himself said: ‘We wanted a good result and got it, but we need to be better.’ While Tipuric added: ‘It’s nice to play with Toby. To be honest I think he did all the hard work and made me look good.
‘We didn’t want to play like the BaaBaas and sling it around because Italy can put points on you. In the end we came out on top.’ As if an encapsulation of their year, it was all going so well to start with for Wales here, before falling off a cliff.
The visitors then incredibly moved ahead through Johan Meyer before running out of energy
Kieran Hardy scored after Faletau flicked a superb pass to send Tipuric through a hole, and then Sam Parry was biffed over by Tomas Francis. Sheedy kicked both conversions and all was well in the Welsh garden.
But then Italy sprouted green shoots of recovery and Wales could not reach for the de-weeder quickly enough.
Garbisi kicked three penalties, Zanon scored when Carlo Canna chipped through and Meyer went over on the right when Josh Adams was in the sin-bin to put Italy in the lead.
But a late rally saved Wales. Davies, North and Tipuric all scored and Sheedy converted the lot for a 20-point win – only their third victory of the year.
The touch-line fires blazed at full time at Parc y Scarlets, but Wales are a long way from catching alight.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac will have much to ponder despite Saturday’s comeback in Llanelli