Leading ahead, one of the more significant clashes in Round Four of the Guinness Six Nations draw is #ITAvWAL. More so now as the Welsh side aims for a Grand Slam. So what can be learned from past Italy v Wales results?
It’s the penultimate weekend of this year’s Championship, that will see the Championship-leading Welsh group go head to head in Rome. This will be the 30th time that these two sides have met. Wales has come out on top 26 times, Italy just the two-times, and the match was drawn on a single occasion. Ahead of the game on Saturday, Last Word on Rugby has highlighted three games to analyze: Italy’s first win against Wales in 2003, the tied game of 2006, and a thumping-win for Wales in 2015.
While every game is approached as a sole occasion, much can be taken from a loss, a draw, and a win. Enjoy this perspective, and add a comment below to have your say.
15th Feb 2003: Italy 30 Wales 22 (Rome)
A terrible year this was for Wales. They were whitewashed in the process of collecting the Six Nations wooden spoon. A Steve Hansen-coached side (whatever happened to him?) were outfought by Italy in front of a passionate crowd. On that day, Italy was led by Hansen’s fellow countryman and All Black legend, John Kirwan.
In 2003, the former winger got his coaching tactics right that day. Most notably picking the eldest of the Bergamasco brothers, Mauro; a back-rower by trade, out on the wing. Diego Dominguez would kick the points which would eventually see Italy over the line after the tries had been shared equally among the teams with three-a-piece.
It was to be Italy’s second-ever win in the Six Nations. Their first victory came against Scotland in 2000. Of note, England would go on to complete a Grand Slam that year in a final day decider with Ireland.
11 March 2006, Wales 18 Italy 18 (Cardiff)
Italy nearly got the better of Wales again in Cardiff, in a match that ended very tentatively in a tie. Wales was a different proposition to the side that 12-months previously had blown teams apart. In 2005 they had achieved their first Grand Slam in 27-years, with a free-flowing brand of rugby.
Fast forward twelve months and their coach of that year, Mike Ruddock had gone. Replaced by his skills coach, the Australian-born Scott Johnson, supporters may flinch when the below footage is viewed.
Johnson left Gavin Henson on the bench that day. Henson, who had played a big part in the previous year’s successes was idle as Stephen Jones ran the cutter.
In the analysis, he may have provided an extra option in Wales’ attacking arsenal with his long-range kicking for goal. It wasn’t to be for either side that day though. Italy had the best chances to close it out but the penalty and drop goal opportunities that presented themselves could not be converted by Ramiro Pez.
It was away from home, so the direct comparison to an Italy v Wales clash is hard to pinpoint yet, the Italian Azzurri have to take one thing from it. Keep the score close, take the points, and charge the first receiver.
21st March, 2015: Italy 20 Wales 61 (Rome)
This particular weekend saw three teams going for the title on the final day of the Guinness Six Nations championship. England, Wales, and Ireland all had their opportunity, with a points differential also playing a big part in the machinations.
Italy versus Wales was a closely fought encounter in the first half but, Wales put on an attacking show in the second. They ran in seven tries to add to the one scored by Jamie Roberts in the first 40-minutes. Over the second half, a hat-trick by George North in the space of 10-minutes blew open the match outcome in Rome.
However, in the end it wasn’t enough to win the Championship. In the count-back, Ireland won with a better points differential than both England and Wales. All three sides ending the year tied on eight competition points, with four victories and one loss.
Wales will be strong favourites going into the game with Italy. Should they win, it would set up an enticing last game for Wales with France in Paris. What kind of French side Wales will face will depend on the Covid-19 status of their squad. There is also the not so small matter of France needing to play England and their re-scheduled game with Scotland. The likely date for that being Friday the 26th of March, after all the other fixtures for this year have been played.
The Azzurri need a strong showing with the clamour growing for an alternative Tier Two Nation to be able to eat at the top table in Northern Hemisphere rugby, possibly achieved through a promotion and relegation system. Bringing South Africa and/or Argentina in was also mooted and discounted for now. It’s a shame that there will be no fans to enjoy what is a great environment for rugby in Rome in the early Spring.