|2018 Six Nations: Wales v Italy|
|Wales (17) 38|
|Tries: Parkes, North 2, Hill, Tipuric Cons: Anscombe 3, Halfpenny 2 Pens: Anscombe|
|Italy (7) 14|
|Tries: Minozzi, Bellini Cons: Allan, Canna Pens:|
Much-changed Wales rose to second in the table as they handed Italy their 16th straight Six Nations defeat.
After Warren Gatland made 10 changes, two tries from George North and scores from Hadleigh Parkes, Cory Hill and Justin Tipuric sealed the win.
The hosts also had Liam Williams and Gareth Davies sin-binned.
Wales will finish second behind champions Ireland if they defeat France with a bonus point on Saturday, 17 March.
Williams yellow carded and then replaced
Liam Williams’ yellow card was a major talking point. He was sin-binned for a high tackle on opposite number Matteo Minozzi just before half-time.
Former Wales captains Martyn Williams and Jonathan Davies believed it could have been a red card with one replay showing Williams’ swinging arm making contact with the Italian’s head.
The challenge appeared to have no malice, but could be deemed as over exuberant at best and reckless at worst.
South African television match official Marius Jonker guided French referee Jerome Garces through the decision.
Their conclusion was 10 minutes on the sidelines for Williams rather than a permanent exclusion although Wales chose not to return the British and Irish Lions back to the field.
North star shines for Wales
North had endured a week in which he found himself at the centre of controversy after being accused of not wanting to play for Northampton last weekend.
The 25-year-old will return to Wales next season on a national dual contract and could come back even sooner – after the Six Nations – if his club relations have broken down.
In Cardiff he returned to what he knows best in his first Six Nations start in almost a year, scoring tries.
Italy have seen enough of North over the years and he has now crossed for his eighth try in eight matches against the Azzurri.
Much changed – but plenty of respect
The build-up had been dominated by talk of ‘disrespect’ by Wales’ selection following defeat against Ireland.
The only Welsh survivors were Williams, Parkes, Steff Evans, Gareth Davies and Hill.
Scarlets flanker James Davies, brother of Wales and Lions centre Jonathan, was the headline act making his Welsh debut.
Davies made an early impression with a turnover as Wales turned down a penalty kick at goal after three minutes.
The decision was vindicated when Parkes took advantage of some weak Italian defence to power over with opposite number Tommaso Castello forced off with a head injury.
Another Welsh try followed when centre Owen Watkin intercepted an Italian attack and sprinted 70 metres before delivering the scoring pass to North.
Outside-half Anscombe, starting his first Six Nations match in his preferred position, converted both tries as Wales led 14-0 inside seven minutes.
Well beaten but no collapse by Italy
However, fears of an Italy collapse evaporated – there was no repeat of the 2016 fixture when Wales celebrated a record Six Nations 67-14 victory.
The Italians frustrated Wales as they chipped away for the rest of the first half while the hosts lacked fluidity following their storming start.
The visitors took advantage of some poor defence down the narrow side with Minozzi expertly wriggling through tackles from Williams and Gareth Davies. Tommaso Allen converted from the touchline.
Taulupe Faletau, captaining Wales for the first time in the absence of the rested Alun Wyn Jones, imposed himself on Italian outside-half Allen with a crunching tackle that sent reverberations around the Principality Stadium.
The second quarter was littered with errors with an Italian mistake allowing Anscombe to slot over a penalty.
Tempers frayed when Williams was yellow-carded for that challenge on opposite number Minozzi.
It ended a half to forget for Williams who did not return to the field as Leigh Halfpenny replaced him when the 10 minutes was up in the second half.
Numbers not counting
Despite being down to 14 men, Wales started the second half in similar stunning fashion with Dragons lock Hill crashing over for his first Test try.
Wales made life hard for themselves when they were briefly reduced to 13 men as scrum-half Davies was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
But North crossed for his double and the tireless Tipuric was also rewarded before Italy wing Mattia Bellini grabbed a late consolation.
Wales face France on the last day match with only second in the Six Nations on the line while Ireland will bid for the Grand Slam against England at Twickenham.
The rivals in Cardiff could finish as high as second or as low as fifth with Wales looking for a third home victory of the campaign.
Man of the match
Hadleigh Parkes. The New Zealand born centre has become a steady fixture in the Welsh midfield since making his debut against South Africa in December 2017 and his early try set the tone for Wales. Involved in everything good that Wales produced.
Wales: L Williams; North, Watkin, Parkes, S Evans, Anscombe, G Davies; Smith, Dee, Francis, Hill, B Davies, Tipuric, James Davies, Faletau (capt).
Replacements: Owens, R Evans, R Jones , S Davies, Jenkins, A Davies, Patchell, Halfpenny.
Italy: Minozzi; Benvenuti, Bisegni, Castello, Bellini; Allan, Violi; Lovotti, Ghiraldini, Ferrari, Zanni, Budd, Negri, Mbanda, Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Fabiani, Quaglio, Pasquali, Ruzza, Licata, Palazzani, Canna, Hayward.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Touch judges: Pascal Gauzere (France) & Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)