It was the selection that we all praised and were excited about, a blend of youth and experience, we thought, would give Wales the team that they had dreamed of, but ultimately it failed to deliver in the style required by the most demanding of supporters.
It had started so well for Wales when Hadleigh Parkes bounced off the Italian defence for a training ground try. Moments later an Owen Watkin interception gave rise to a 70-metre sprint into open territory and he managed what Scotland failed to do 24 hours earlier – give an immaculate try-scoring pass – to George North. After that, well, it went a bit flat, Wales somehow managed to concede a try to Minozzi despite having a 3 on 2 cover in defence, and then a spell when, aside from a disallowed try and an Anscombe penalty, the game was uninspiring. Liam Williams then went on to prove what a loose cannon he can be when he was given a yellow card just before halftime, and starting the second half with only 14 men Wales managed to mount an attack from which Corey Hill pounded over the Italian Line 24-7 to Wales. A few minutes later and Gareth Davies is sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on Wales were down to 13 men and under pressure when Bradley Davies steals from a lineout, relief all around the ground.
Halfpenny replaces Liam Williams and Wales back to 14 men, Aled Davies comes on for Gareth Davies and Patchell for Anscombe and Wales regain their structure, a stronger looking Welsh side run in tries from North and Tipuric and a bonus point to boot! Bellini scores for Italy and the final score is 38-14 to Wales.
On paper it looks like a good win for Wales, but we must bear in mind that they were playing Italy at home and on that point, surely the time has come for the powers that be to consider a mechanism for relegation from the Six Nations. Since Italy joined the Six Nations in 2000, they have finished bottom in 12 of the last 18 tournaments and look likely to do so again, and in 8 of those twelve, they did not register a single win. The Raison D’être of the decision to include Italy in the Six Nations was sure to give them stronger competition and thus improve their national game. Nothing of the sort has happened, they remain as weak, a side as they were in 2000, and Sergio Parisse aside they have nothing much to shout about. France re-entered the 5 Nations in 1947 and within eight years they were sharing the spoils of the title, it is difficult to envisage Italy even being in competition for the title in the foreseeable future.
It cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise a competition for teams such as Georgia, Romania, Spain and Russia, to have a second tier “Four Nations Tournament” (maybe played on the rest days of the Six Nations) with the winner having a play-off against the bottom Six Nations team. To prevent too much of a merry-go-round a single game should be held at the incumbent Six Nations team’s home ground. If one of the second tier teams could win a game of that importance, then they must deserve a place in the Six Nations and a win for the bottom Six Nations team would at least give validity to their place in the competition.
Back to Wales and it is difficult not to feel a little disappointed at the performance of a Wales team that promised much but delivered only in small portions, however a win in the Six Nations is still a win in the Six Nations and Wales have the prospect of finishing second in the table if they can win against a revitalised France.
Bring it on!
By Ian Muir