A lack of cutting edge in the backs combined with a sorry looking defence at times saw Italy lose their third match of this year’s 6 Nations Championship against a Wales side, relying heavily on the attacking flair of James Hook who looked sharp throughout, pounced well upon Italian mistakes at the Stadio Flaminio.
Although Italy took the lead early on through Gonzalo Canale, it was hardly a cutting move through the backs. A missed pass in the Wales backline fell into the hands of Canale who chipped through before gathering his own kick to cross the line in the corner.
Wales struck back almost immediately as James Hook broke the Italian line before popping the ball off the Bradley Davies. Davies, aware he would not make the line himself, turned smartly to roll off a tackle before handing the ball to Morgan Stoddart who battered his way over the line from close range to score his second try of the 2011 tournament.
James Hook then tore up the home side’s defence again as he cut outside an attempted tackle on halfway. Again the Ospreys’ back had the vision to release his fellow backs as he passed to Jamie Roberts who, after skating into the Italian 22 unhindered, released Sam Warburton inside him to score under the posts. Stephen Jones kicked the conversion where he had missed the previous, although he and his opposite number Mirco Bergamasco kept the scoreboard ticking over with a penalty apiece.
With the score at 15-8 in favour of the away side with just 25 minutes on the clock Italy thought they had scored again as they battered over following a messy forward orientated move. The video referee decided otherwise and Bergamasco kicked the resulting penalty to take the home side within four points.
Such was the nature of the match that neither side had been able to gain a foothold in the game and control proceedings until the point when Jones kicked two further penalties before the break to take his side in leading 21-11.
Had Jones not kicked those two penalties then Italy’s start to the second half as they capitalised on a Welsh mistake, although this time it was more subtle, would have put them back into the match, as it was it allowed them to hold on. Captain Sergio Parisse was fed the ball quickly from under the posts and the barraging number eight took the blind side route with little Welsh cover as he handed off Mike Phillips to score in the corner.
Had Italy kicked a long range penalty attempt minutes later they would have cut the deficit to two points, however it dropped agonisingly short in the gusting winds of Rome. That left Hook, in the fly-half position, to slot a drop-goal late on to extend Wales’ lead in the match as they were able to hold on to win 24-16 in a match that neither team was able to control for long periods, but where the magical touch of Hook throughout to create both tries and slot the late points was the telling factor.