Italy extended its own record streak with a 19th straight defeat in the Six Nations since 2015. The 99-year-old tournament record became theirs outright last weekend in Edinburgh. Wales' winning streak started against Italy in the 2018 Six Nations.
Coach Warren Gatland made 11 changes after the fortuitous win over France in Paris last weekend, trying to build experience in a Rugby World Cup year. That Wales finished with its least points and tries in Rome in six years didn't worry Gatland, who was far more satisfied with starting the championship with two wins away from home before returning to Cardiff to face title rival England in two weeks.
But he warned, "If we play like that against England it could be embarrassing." Stand-in captain Jonathan Davies was frustrated. "I can't fault the boys' effort," he said. "That accuracy in the final quarter was probably what we lacked. But we came to a difficult place to play rugby and got the result. Italy made things tough for us."
But a comfortable win at Stadio Olimpico was on the cards as Dan Biggar kicked Wales to a 12-point lead in the first half hour. Then Italy struck from an attacking lineout as Dean Budd and captain Sergio Parisse surged. Sebastian Negri and David Sisi helped in getting flanker Braam Steyn over the line, and the game descended into the tight contest the Welsh feared.
Tommaso Allan converted Steyn's try but hit the post with a penalty just before halftime. He nailed a penalty after the break to cut the deficit to two. Wales sent on regular captain Alun Wyn Jones and finally hit back and pulled away with converted tries by Josh Adams and Owen Watkin to make the result safe with 10 minutes to go.
Italy coach Conor O'Shea rued what he believed to be a missed opportunity. "We were very close in points for 50 minutes where we were fully in the match," O'Shea said. "We had an opportunity in the second half but the energy at that time went in their favor."
Wales flew down the right touch then attacked down the left, where fullback Liam Williams drew the last man to send Adams into the corner for their first try. Wales thought it scored another 10 minutes later, but Jonathan Davies was adjudged by the TMO to have knocked on.
The second try came from a delicate chip by replacement flyhalf Gareth Anscombe for Watkin to pounce on. Italy made the scoreline more respectable when Allan exploited a gap and teed up Edoardo Padovani into the right corner.
Right at the end, Wales flanker Thomas Young was denied a try on debut when a forward pass was caught in the buildup. Italy already looks consigned to a fourth consecutive wooden spoon. Defending champion Ireland arrives in two weeks. But Steyn, who was a standout for Italy, believes any home match is winnable.
"The hardest challenges," Steyn added, "are the best."
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