Italy headed for 6 Nations wooden spoon after loss to Wales
ROME (AP) — Italy is headed for another last-place finish in the Six Nations.
The Azzurri paid the price for yet another slow start and then losing two players to the sin-bin, sinking to a 29-17 defeat to Wales in a match billed as a wooden spoon decider on Saturday.
That’s a fourth straight loss in this championship for Italy, which needs to win in Scotland next weekend in the final round to stand a chance of avoiding finishing bottom of the standings.
The likelihood is, however, the Italians will be last for an eighth straight year in the Six Nations and the 18th time in 24 editions since joining the northern hemisphere tournament in 2000.
Their 25th successive Six Nations home loss had its origins in another, now-trademark sloppy first half, with Wales — piloted by the excellent Rhys Webb at scrumhalf in his first test start in three years — soaring ahead 10-0 after 10 minutes and a 22-3 lead by halftime.
Wales turned round with a man advantage, after Italy No. 8 Lorenzo Cannone pulled down a 34th-minute maul on the try line to give away a penalty try and earn a yellow card, and then benefitted from the 46th-minute sin-binning of home winger Pierre Bruno for leading with his left forearm into the throat of Wales prop Wyn Jones.
Webb sent in No. 8 Taulupe Faletau for the bonus-point fourth try in the 50th, enough to give them their first points of the championship and a first win in the second reign of Warren Gatland after earlier losses to Ireland, Scotland and England.
“There’s still a massive amount of growth in this team, in terms of them going forward,” Gatland said of Wales after again rotating his lineup.
“A lot of players will have learned a lot about themselves today and it wasn’t a bad Italian side.”
Wales has five points and Italy is on one. Wales closes against France in Paris.
The Italians played some exciting stuff again, with second-half tries by flanker Sebastian Negri and center Juan Ignacio Brex the least they deserved for matching Wales for large parts of the game at Stadio Olimpico.
Brex’s try in the 68th set up a frantic finale and Italy had enough possession and territory to grab two more tries and take the win. Poor handling cost them dear after a slew of line breaks.
Gatland reserved special praise for Webb, who — in his first Six Nations start since 2017 — controlled the game with his kicking and made some darting breaks around the fringes. It was the scrumhalf’s kick into the left corner that got a fortunate bounce and was collected by winger Rio Dyer for the opening try in the ninth minute.
“His decision making was excellent,” Gatland said of Webb. “He didn’t force anything and kept us on the front foot.”
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