Italy coach Conor O’Shea was left to bemoan his side’s slow start as they slipped to defeat in Wales but has seen enough signs to be convinced his side are headed in the right direction.
Hadleigh Parkes barrelling over the whitewash and George North benefitting after Owen Watkin had intercepted an Azzurri attack and raced 50 metres upfield meant Wales led 14-0 with barely five minutes played at Principality Stadium.
Impressive full-back Matteo Minozzi scored a sublime try in the corner to bring the Italians back into the contest shortly after but Cory Hill, North again and Justin Tipuric all dotted down to take the game away from the visitors in the second period, rendering Mattia Bellini’s late try as little more than consolation – as Wales triumphed 38-14.
Italy’s wait for a first win of the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations goes on – they now have just one more chance when they host Scotland next weekend – but with a number of young players growing into themselves as the Championship progresses, O’Shea is still feeling positive.
“You look at the performances of the likes of Matteo Minozzi, Sebastian Negri, Marcello Violi, Mattia Bellini – we are building a team piece by piece,” he said. “I am incredibly proud.
“We are doing the right things. It’s the only time for these guys to learn and they’re learning in front of the full glare of everyone.
“If we learn to execute properly and take our opportunities, then these games change. We’ll keep on doing what we’re doing – we’re doing the right things and we’ll get there.
“Unfortunately, we gave a gift start to a team that then could play with a liberation and a freedom. We came away from home and we gave a team that have a lot of bloody good players confidence because we gave them 14-0 after five minutes.
“It’s a difficult challenge after that for a group of young players. They reacted well and we’ll fight tooth and nail.
“The first try was too easy, but well-executed, and then the second try we turn the ball over and they go the length of the field. When you do execute and get things right, you do well.”
O’Shea undoubtedly has Italian rugby headed in the right direction but he admits it’s a game of fine margins at the highest level – highlighting the Azzurri’s failure to convert a five-metre lineout when trailing 14-7 as a turning point.
“At 14-7, we kick into the corner, maul towards the line and don’t get over,” he added. “That changes momentum and gives energy to the opposition. That’s what we control.
“At this level, you’re talking about a lineout delivery where your arms are partly up versus a delivery where they are fully up. The difference looks non-existent but it makes the difference.”