Wales made sure of second place in the Six Nations with a high-scoring demolition of Italy, winning 67-14 in Cardiff.
Still dissecting their oddly subdued first 50 minutes at Twickenham and trying to put a week spilling over with off-field distractions behind them, Wales started fast and never looked back in an open game where they offloaded perhaps more than throughout all of the four previous games in this year’s Six Nations.
Italy, hampered by injuries, lacked the discipline and consistency to keep Wales at bay on a long afternoon where they rarely controlled possession and were outscored nine tries to two.
Jacques Brunel’s last game in charge was a grim one. His counterpart Warren Gatland meanwhile will have taken note of the performances of a returning Rhys Webb and early replacement Ross Moriarty as he begins to plan for Wales’ tour to New Zealand later this year.
His side were never troubled, despite the absence of key leaders in Alun Wyn Jones and regular captain Sam Warburton.
For a contest with nothing riding on it – Wales unable to win the title, Italy unable to avoid the Wooden Spoon – this certainly wasn’t dull.
Wales should never have had their first try allowed given their backs were offside ahead of the kick through by Dan Biggar, leading to a lineout from which Rhys Webb sniped over from close range to close the circle on his own personal nightmare.
It was against Italy on the same pitch that Webb suffered the injury which ruled him out of the Rugby World Cup, and despite Gareth Davies impressing his return is certainly welcome.
The visitors tried to fire back from a kick to the corner only to fail with their execution, Wales instead marching back up the field and adding three points through Biggar’s boot.
Italy were labouring under Welsh pressure on their defence and set-piece, eventually paying the price when promising scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani was sin-binned. Rather than turn the screw, Wales surprisingly opted to kick three more points through Biggar.
Through a combination of Wales’ failure to execute and some impressive defence Italy held out with Palazzani off the field, only for Wales to strike immediately on his return.
A one-two from Dan Biggar and Jamie Roberts, after Davide Giazzon’s missed tackle put Biggar through a gap, allowed the fly-half to run under the posts for his first Test try, adding the conversion, before a length-of-the-field move starting in Wales’ 22 produced the best try so far as Jonathan Davies finished off a sweeping passage of play with Wales putting the ball through the hands.
Biggar’s conversion made it 27-0, and it should have been more, while injuries for Italy to Mattia Bellini and Andrea Pratichetti compounded a horrible first half for the Azzurri.
Patient build-up in Italy’s 22 then ended with a try for Roberts out wide, from a nice offload by George North, for a simple finish.
North went from provider to scorer not long after, pinning his ears back to tear through a gaping hole in Italy’s defence before cutting in superbly to finish by the posts.
Italy at last had something to smile about through a try for Palazzani off the back of his pack’s good work with the rolling maul but it was only a small reprieve, with Liam Williams adding to the Welsh tally with try number six.
Gonzalo Garcia, one of Italy’s best players in the tournament, added more respectability to the scoreboard with his converted try to make it 46-14, but in truth the next try from Wales was never far away.
Having replaced the injured Justin Tipuric early on Moriarty finished off a driving maul attack for Wales to produce their next score, as Italy looked weary.
A second for Moriaty and final score from Gareth Davies, with the clock red, rounded off a record win for Wales in the Six Nations. Not enough to make up for last week perhaps, but a fine performance.
Man of the Match: A world-class finish for his try and George North was the pick of the Wales backs. His fourth straight try after scoring against Scotland, England and France equalled the record set by Shane Williams. Immense.
Moment of the Match: Having ridden out the sin-bin period Italy conceded instantly through Dan Biggar’s try to open the floodgates.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.
Tries: Webb, Biggar, J Davies, Roberts, North, L Williams, Moriaty 2, G Davies
Cons: Biggar 5, Priestland 3
Pens: Biggar 2
Tries: Palazzani, Garcia
Cons: Haimona 2
Yellow Card: Palazzani
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate (c), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Gareth Anscombe
Italy: 15 David Odiete, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Andrea Pratichetti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Valerio Bernabo, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Jacopo Sarto, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Alberto Lucchese, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)