Warren Gatland praises Rhys Webb for contribution in win over Italy
Wales boss Warren Gatland hailed the excellence of scrum-half Rhys Webb after a 29-17 Guinness Six Nations victory over Italy at Stadio Olimpico.
Webb’s first Test start since October 2020 saw him create two tries and deservedly take player-of-the-match honours as Gatland’s team ended a run of three successive defeats in this season’s tournament.
“I thought he was excellent in that game in the way his decision-making controlled the game,” Gatland said.
“He has not played at this level for a while, so we were always thinking when did we need to make a change in terms of his legs and stuff.
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“I thought his contribution was excellent and his decision-making in not trying to force things, not trying too hard. I thought it was a great contribution by him.”
Gatland’s team arrived in Rome with the wooden spoon a realistic prospect following successive defeats against Ireland, Scotland and England.
But Italy, who wasted a host of chances, now look destined to finish bottom of the Six Nations table for an 18th time as Wales climbed off the basement.
Early tries by wing Rio Dyer and full-back Liam Williams rewarded a dominant early display, then a penalty try underpinned an impressive first-half performance that saw Wales build a 19-point advantage.
Number eight Taulupe Faletau’s 50th-minute touchdown secured a bonus-point, while fly-half Owen Williams kicked a penalty and two conversions.
Gatland added: “We spoke before the game about being smart about how we wanted to play, but also being brave and taking those opportunities and moving the ball.
“I thought we deserved to win against an Italy team that is obviously improving. They’re the most athletic Italian side we’ve faced.”
Gatland, meanwhile, said that replacement hooker Scott Baldwin could be unavailable for next weekend’s clash against France after picking up a pectoral muscle injury, while Liam Williams suffered a shoulder knock and wing Josh Adams a slight knee issue.
Wales captain Ken Owens said: “We will grow from this. We’ve perhaps lacked a bit of confidence over the last few weeks, but I felt we were confident, we were patient and we problem-solved.
“We are trying to build something and we are building. It was a victory for the whole squad.”
Flanker Sebastian Negri and centre Juan Ignacio Brex touched down for the home side, with Tommy Allan slotting a penalty and two conversions, but Italy’s poor discipline saw two players sin-binned and Wales took the spoils despite the Azzurri dominating late on.
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley cut a frustrated figure following his team’s fourth successive Six Nations defeat of the season, believing his team should have been awarded a first-half penalty try.
“We fought our way back into it. We prepared well, we were in a good space, but it just didn’t go our way,” he said.
“Our execution wasn’t good enough and we let ourselves down in that area, which is something we need to look at.
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“I couldn’t believe there was no penalty try awarded. It’s very clear there was a tackle made, so there is a tackle line and their 10 tackled Brex. How they couldn’t come to the right decision I don’t know. There was a fair bit of frustration.
“If a penalty try had been given, it was 15-10 and the game changes. Anyway, we move on.”
Italy continued with an attacking approach that has lit up some of their performances this season, and Crowley added: “I am not going to die wondering.
“Italy are where they are because of the way they have played over the last 10 years. If we keep doing the same thing we have always done, we will always be in the same place.
“Wales beat us today by box-kicking. They beat us in the aerial game. I know what sort of game I would rather play.”