Taulupe Faletau scored one and set up another as Wales beat Italy 29-17 to record their first win of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
Rio Dyer’s early score got the visitors up and running before Faletau found Liam Williams to add a second inside 18 minutes.
A penalty try opened up a 22-3 half-time lead and though Sebastian Negri’s try raised Italian hopes, Faletau was on hand to secure the bonus point and all but settle the outcome.
Juan Ignacio Brex went over late on to give Italy the final word but the Azzurri will now head to BT Murrayfield on Super Saturday hoping to avoid a fifth defeat in five.
Wales, by contrast, can celebrate the first success of Warren Gatland’s second spell in charge and take a valuable morale-boost into next weekend’s clash with France in Paris.
WALES FLY OUT THE TRAPS
The early exchanges were always going to be crucial in a clash between two sides who came into the clash winless and it was Wales who ensured they gained the upper hand.
Owen Williams’ routine penalty got them up and running before putting boot to ball proved crucial in their opening try.
The returning Rhys Webb’s hopeful box-kick was allowed to bounce twice and the second of them caught out the covering Italian defence, coming back infield and landing perfectly into the arms of Dyer, who was left with a comfortable finish.
Italy were showing signs of early nerves, Brex knocking on and Paolo Garbisi out of sorts with his kicking, and their first meaningful attack broke down when Tommaso Menoncello put too much on a pass out wide which eluded Edoardo Padovani.
Tommaso Allan’s penalty got the hosts on the board but Wales soon extended their lead when Liam Williams picked up Faletau’s pass on the bounce, stepped inside and shrugged off a string of attempted tackles to burrow over.
The conversion was missed and Italy thought they had narrowed the deficit when Brex went over, only for the centre’s effort to be ruled out for a knock-on after a flowing move.
ADVANTAGE STRETCHED BEFORE THE BREAK
Owen Williams pulled a long-range penalty wide shortly afterwards but it did not take long for Wales to build on their advantage.
A rolling maul was illegally halted by Lorenzo Cannone, whose yellow card added insult to injury following the award of a penalty try which stretched the visitors’ lead to 22-3.
Italy battled hard while a man light and looked set to end the half on a high while camped inside the Wales 22.
But in a moment which summed up their first 40 minutes, Pierre Bruno was penalised for taking out Liam Williams in the air while Italy had a penalty advantage, meaning the penalty went the other way and Wales gratefully found touch.
FALETAU PUNISHES ITALIAN INDISCIPLINE
Italy desperately needed the first points of the second half to keep their hopes of a positive outcome alive and they found them when Negri latched on to Allan’s chip through for a score converted by the man who set it up.
Their hopes of building momentum were quickly dented, however. Just moments after being restored to a full complement, Italy were again reduced to 14 when Bruno was penalised for making contact with the neck of Wyn Jones.
Josh Adams nearly took instant advantage, only to be held up by a try-saving Stephen Varney tackle, but there was no stopping Faletau securing Wales’ bonus point when he was set free by a rampaging Webb.
Owen Williams’ conversion took the lead to 29-10, the visitors topping their cumulative tally from the first three games (27).
Italy did not go down without a fight and Brex was on hand to finish from Bruno’s offload with 12 minutes to play but the Azzurri could not make a further dent in the deficit in pursuit of a losing bonus point, spurning several promising opportunities inside the Welsh 22 as the visitors held on.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Rhys Webb was one of six changes made by Warren Gatland to the side beaten by England a fortnight ago and more than justified his selection.
The scrum-half bookended his performance with assists, setting up the first with his boot and the fourth following a trademark snipe.
His experience proved vital in marshalling a backline sprinkled with youth and Webb looks to have done more than enough to retain his place for Round 5.