Italy condemn Wales to Six Nations whitewash

rugby16 March 2024 16:31| © AFP
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Lorenzo Pani© Gallo Images

Italy condemned Wales to a Six Nations whitewash for the first time in 21 years with a 24-21 win in Cardiff on Saturday.

Defeat also meant Wales finished last in a Six Nations for the first time since that woeful 2003 campaign and was a sad way for George North, who went off injured late on, to bow out from test rugby in the powerhouse back's final match before international retirement.

But for Italy, victory meant they had their best return in a Six Nations of two wins and a draw, with this victory following last weekend's 31-29 defeat of Scotland in Rome and a 13-13 thriller with France.

It also ensured the Azzurri avoided a ninth-straight 'wooden spoon' in the tournament, with outside centre Juan Ignacio Brex starring in defence.

Italy scored fine tries through Monty Ioane and Lorenzo Pani, in for the injured Ange Capuozzo, with fly-half Paolo Garbisi kicking three penalties and a conversion and Martin Page-Relo landing a late penalty.

Italy were 18-0 ahead until Wales hooker Elliot Dee forced his way over for a 65th-minute try.

Garbisi and Page-Relo then all but sealed the game for Italy at 24-7 with 10 minutes left.

Wales then managed two further tries through replacements Will Rowlands and Mason Grady.

But those scores came too late to deny Italy a deserved victory, with Wales having now won just one game in 10 Six Nations matches since Warren Gatland returned for a second stint as coach.

"I want to say thank you to every single Italian here tonight," Azzurri captain Michele Lamaro told the BBC. "We want to achieve more than just not getting the 'wooden spoon', we have had a good tournament but know we can do better than this."

Italy's right to a permanent place in the Six Nations has been repeatedly called into question in recent seasons but flanker Lamaro added: "We've been through lots of difficult moments and now we can celebrate the good ones."

Never before had a Wales side coached by Gatland finished bottom of the Six Nations, although the New Zealander was in charge of the Ireland team that propped up the 1998 Five Nations table.

Life is not about to get any easier for Wales, with their next game against world champions South Africa in June, followed by a two-test tour of Australia.


But Gatland, who has urged Wales supporters to be patient while he conducts a post-World Cup rebuild after the retirement of several senior player, said he was still "excited" to coach the current squad.

"The fans will find it painful, we do as well," the New Zealander added. "We didn't help ourselves in that first half and didn't get enough go forward or momentum.

"This rebuild isn't harder than we thought, we knew the inexperience we had in the squad and the players we asked to step up to leadership roles...In fairness to Italy we didn't put them under a huge amount of pressure and they managed the game well.

"I'm really excited about this group with some youngsters who will learn about this experience."

Garbisi kicked Italy into an early 6-0 lead after Italy's forwards won two ruck penalties

Wales, overpowered up front in a 45-24 defeat by France last weekend, then fell further behind.

After several drives by the forwards, slick handling by Italy's backs created an overlap on the right for Ioane, coming across from the left wing, to score his 13th try in 30 tests.

Garbisi missed a simple conversion, but Italy still led 11-0 after 20 minutes.

Italy, coached by former Argentina playmaker Gonzalo Quesada, pulled further clear six minutes into the second half.

Ioane's fine angled run saw him burst clear through the defence and the full-back sidestepped Josh Adams in style before sprinting in for a try. Garbisi converted and Italy were 18-0 ahead as boos rang round the Principality Stadium from the frustrated home fans.

Wales almost hit back on the hour mark through Tomos Williams but the scrum-half was tackled superbly in sight of Italy's try-line by replacement Ross Vintcent.

Dee forced his way over for Wales' first try five minutes later before Garbisi and Page-Relo then all but sealed the game for Italy at 24-7 with 10 minutes left as Rowlands and Grady crossed for consolation scores.