Six Nations Game 11 - Italy vs Wales (23-20)
Wales won possession at the kickoff, but the boot of Ramiro Pez put them back in their own half pretty quickly. They needed to have a good game, having plaid three and lost all three.
Italy made the first break and went over the line, but the ball was thrown forward at the last pass. It would have been a dream for Pratichetti, making his first start for the Azzurri.
Wales wobbled at the early scrums. The Italian pack were lighter, but they can scrum a lot of folks into the ground. After eight minutes, Pez was given the opportunity to kick for three points, but at over 55m it fell slightly short. Wales infringed again a few minutes later, and Pez had an easier kick for goal, and the aim was true. First points to Italy, 3-0.
Alessandro Troncon [right] was making his 93rd appearance for the Azzurri, a gnarled old Italian warrior.
Wales had a chance after thirteen minutes, Mirco Bergamasco just landing on the ball over the line ahead of a Welsh jersey. A Welsh scrum on the Italian 22 came to naught when they were found crossing. Pez punted the free kick well into the Welsh half for an attacking lineout.
In the first quarter, Italy certainly looked the brighter prospect - and spent more time in Wales' half. When the Reds infringed again, Pez took another three points, making them 6-0 up.
Gonzalo Canale took a bit hit to the leg and went off shortly afterwards. A replacement came on in the pack an Mauro Bergamasco went to cover the midfield duties.
Italy were pushing the Welsh pack backwards at the scrum, but Wales eventually won some ball. James Hook made a lovelykick ahead which was gathered by Tom Shanklin who offloaded to Shane Williams [left], and the flyer was off. Stephen Jones added the extras to take a narrow lead, 6-7. Jones was the recipient of a flying punch a few minutes later, and went off to be stitched up. Mauro Bergamasco was the offender.
After half an hour, Wales brought down an Italian scrum, and the penalty kick gave the Azzurri good field position to attack the Welsh. The made scappy progress but still retained possession. They were turned ovcer just in front of the posts, then Italy turned Wales over, but gave away a penalty shortly after.
Wales snaffled a scrum five minutes before half time, and went for a break. Hook made some good ground, but the support was lacking. Italy turned them over and a kick behind left Kaine Roberston [left] to run against Ian Gough - the No. 14 gathered a kind bounce and made it over the line. Pez then did the honours, giving them a 13-7 lead just before the break.
Wales started brightly in the second half, first with a penalty from James Hook, then Matthew Rees, the Welsh Hooker, sneaking over next to the posts. Hook converted, and Wales took the lead, 13-17.
Then at 50 minutes, Wales infringed and Italy kicked for the corner. A catch and drive was on, and the Italian forwards rumbled towards the line. However, Italy were caught accidentally offside, and Italy tried their utmost to disrupt the resulting Welsh scrum. The Reds weren't put off, and won a lineout shortly after. Then the Azzurri gave away a penalty, Hook did the honours, taking them seven points clear, 13-20.
All of a sudden, the Blues were all over the Welsh line, and the forwards kept pushing, inch by inch. Meanwhile, the Azzurri backs were yelling for the ball, and Wales desperately tried to defend. The ball went to ground, but Italy won the scrum at 5m. It had to be reset, and it came out and they threw it wide to the backs. Still the Welsh defended, Italy creeping closer again. Italy were accidentally offside again, and the impetus was lost.
Wales had the put in at the scrum on 5m, but the Italians kept pushing. The clearance kick went down into blue hands. Italy were still in the Welsh half, when Ryan Jones gave away a penalty. Pez kicked for the corner, giving them a 10m lineout.
However, they were going backwards, and Wales got a lineout in the Italian half. Hook sliced through the midfield, but weren't able to pass to the attacking men.
The last fifteen minutes were pretty scrappy. but it was mainly Italy in the Welsh half. Then, once the boot was on the other foot, Wales made a forward pass. During time out, there were bodies all over the place. It certainly looked like a hard-faught battle.
With ten minutes to go, Italy stole a lineout. There were several phases until Wales gave a penalty in front of the posts. Pez opted to kick the points, and his aim was good. Italy 16-20.
Italy won possession from the restart, but then Wales knocked it into touch. The Italian's possession was disrupted just over the half way line, and they were awarded a penalty. This time, they opted for the corner with five minutes to go.
The Azzurri's lineout was solid, and the forwards went driving with a massive push. They were stopped 3m short. Then 2m. The red line was straining not be be breached. Still the Italains drove on. Then Troncon spun it out wide, a chip ahead and Mauro Bergamasco grounded the ball just under the posts. Pez added another two, and the Stadio Flaminio went mental. Italy 23-20 with three minutes to go.
Wales kept possession from the restart, and pushed into the Italian half. Then the Welsh won a penalty. Massive decision with 10 seconds left! It was punted into the corner, but there was some messing about, and Chris White blew up for full time. Cue pandemonium - from the Italian supporters celebrating their win, and from the Welsh players, feeling they were robbed of the opportunity to pull ahead.
My heart was pounding - and I'm an independent observer! Well done to the Azzurri for their first back to back win.
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