Six Nations: Five takeaways from Italy v Wales as Rhys Webb stars in comeback game
Following a 29-17 victory for Wales over Italy in their Six Nations fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the game at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Rhys Webb takes his opportunity
It’s been six years since Webb pulled on a Wales shirt in the Six Nations and it was like he’d never been away as he grabbed his chance with both hands.
The 34-year-old Ospreys scrum-half was a calming figure right from the outset as Wales enjoyed the perfect start to the match in Rome, his smart and measured box kicking putting his team in the right areas early on. Indeed, his kick would lay on their opening try as Rio Dyer crossed for a crucial score.
The bounce of a rugby ball, ey. Rio Dyer scores for Wales. #ITAvWALpic.twitter.com/ew4hlPjNGW
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 11, 2023
There was a lovely story in the lead-up to this game about Webb‘s children saying recently, “Why aren’t you wearing the number nine jersey? What number are you wearing, why are you wearing number 21 all the time?”. No doubt his kids will be delighted with what they saw from their dad in the starting shirt on Saturday.
Webb was the standout performer in this Wales side and his classic dummy and snipe that led to Taulupe Faletau’s easy try on 50 minutes rolled back the years.
Coach killer for Kieran Crowley
Crowley’s face at half-time was like thunder and one can understand why as his Italian players would have turned any coach grey after that first-half showing. The Azzurri had huge chance after huge chance to strike back against a much more clinical Wales team, but the hosts were wasteful and sloppy in the red zone.
Had they been on their game there’s little doubt the Italians would have been right in the contest at the turnaround, if not leading, but errors were all too frequent as they butchered key opportunities. Basics like passes not in front of the man and not giving the final offload at the right time were just two moments of angst.
When it did look like they had recaptured some kind of a clinical edge early in the second period as Sebastian Negri crossed, they would then shoot themselves in the foot soon after as Pierre Bruno was yellow-carded for a high elbow. That seemingly deflated any possible second-half revival as Wales eased to victory.
One sympathises with Crowley as it felt like everything that could go wrong, especially in the first half, did and he’ll no doubt be seething with his troops.
It’s a game of taking chances
Cliche, yes, but it’s as simple as that sometimes. Wales took their opportunities while Italy most certainly did not and it showed on the scoreboard after 80 minutes.
The Welsh were at it from the outset as they put points on the board at almost every opportunity, especially early on when it seemed Italy were not at the races.
Unfortunately for the hosts the trend continued for the most part as it was a harsh lesson and possibly a game that offered something of a reality check to them.
Italy missed superstar Ange Capuozzo
Indeed, it was clear in Rome on Saturday that Italy sorely missed their premier full-back Capuozzo, who was recently ruled out of the Six Nations through injury.
Tommaso Allan started at number 15 in his absence, and whilst the Harlequins star showed some flashes of brilliance, his performance was a mixed bag. Italy did well at times to create that space in the outside channel where Capuozzo so often thrives and always seems to make the right decision, but his absence was felt.
It was evident that the Toulouse man sharpens the Azzurri’s knife, and it is now a big task for Crowley’s team to reignite a clinical edge to their attack for the final game of the competition, which sees them travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland next week. Others must fill in his shoes if they are to cause a shock.
Owen Williams thrives alongside Webb
Gatland was forced into starting Williams again for this Test, with Dan Biggar ruled out through injury. However, the Ospreys’ playmaker built on a solid outing against England and finally got the Welsh attack to fire.
His ability to draw in defenders and delay his pass to the absolute last second regularly opened up holes in the Azzurri defence.
He effectively organised their attacking patterns and kicked well out of hand. The biggest drawback of his performance was his place-kicking, missing two shots at goal in the first half.
Leigh Halfpenny and Biggar probably would have converted those two opportunities, while Williams also wasted a chance when he failed to find touch in the second half. It did not make much of a difference in this Test match, but this could have cost his side in a tighter game.
Overall, it was a successful afternoon for the 31-year-old, who has undoubtedly given Gatland something to think about his starting fly-half going forward.
READ MORE: Wales player ratings: Rhys Webb outstandingly rolls back the years in victory over Italy in Rome
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