Wales overcome slow start to beat Italy 33-7 in Six Nations

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Rome (AP) — Wales overcame a sluggish start for a 33-7 win over Italy in a rainy Six Nations match on Sunday, narrowly missing out on a bonus point.

Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and George North scored tries after the hour mark and Leigh Halfpenny kicked for 18 points as the visitors overturned a 7-3 halftime deficit to match England and Scotland with wins on the tournament’s opening weekend.

“We started slowly but the character showed,” said new Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who missed 10 minutes shortly after kickoff due to a blood issue. “We worked a little harder, kept the ball and we came together in the second half. We are a day behind everyone else so it is a foot in the door.”

Wales' Jonathan Davies, center, is tackled by Italy's Tommaso Benvenuti and Giulio Bisegni during their Six Nations rugby union international match at the Rome Olympic Stadium, Sunday, Feb. 5. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Wales’ Jonathan Davies, center, is tackled by Italy’s Tommaso Benvenuti and Giulio Bisegni during their Six Nations rugby union international match at the Rome Olympic Stadium, Sunday, Feb. 5. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Edoardo Gori scored a first-half try and Italy ruled the scrum early on but, as has often been the case, the Azzurri appeared to tire as the match wore on and committed a series of errors to let Wales take control.

Williams almost got a fourth try — and the bonus point — but lost the ball as he went over the line in the final minute.

New tournament rules introduced for this season award winners an extra point if they score four tries.

The match turned when Andrea Lovotti was sent to the sin bin for Italy’s second scrum penalty in quick succession midway through the second half.

Davies slid over the line as Wales rapidly spun the ball around and Williams ran in untouched six minutes later.

Two minutes from the end, North ran in all the way from his own half as Wales finally asserted total control.

“The first half, the weather came down and it was going to be a tight game anyway,” North said. “We had to fight to the end, every inch, but we’re happy with the performance. We know they are a passionate team but we backed ourselves and it showed.”

It was Wales’ 11th straight win over Italy, who picked up the wooden spoon last season with their sixth whitewash since joining the competition in 2000.

New Italy coach Conor O’Shea was making his tournament debut with the Azzurri after guiding his men to a historic win over South Africa in November and the Stadio Olimpico crowd was fired up after Italy President Sergio Mattarella greeted all of the players on the pitch before kickoff.

However, Italy quickly dropped to the bottom of the standings with zero points. France and Ireland each picked up one bonus point after losing by seven points or fewer on Saturday.

“We know Wales were the better side today in the end but I thought we were the better side in the first half,” O’Shea said.

Italy committed 16 penalties to Wales’ five.

“We lost our discipline in the second half,” O’Shea said. “The way Wales brought energy it was difficult to maintain the way we played in the first half, where we were magnificent at times. We can’t get frustrated when decisions go against us.

“There are a lot of things that we have to change and we’ll keep on working,” O’Shea added. “It’s not an energy issue. We drained the energy out of ourselves in the first 20 minutes of the second half by losing our discipline.”

It was a tale of two halves as Italy took advantage of a failed try attempt by Wales and quickly charged down to the other end with a try from Gori near the half-hour mark.

A few minutes after Sergio Parisse stormed through the Wales defense, only to be stopped just short of the try line, the Italy captain picked up the ball off the back of the scrum and then a forward push saw Gori across.

Carlo Canna made the conversion to give the Azzurri a 7-0 lead.

However, Halfpenny recovered from an early miss and made four straight penalties to put Wales ahead.

Wales host defending champions England next weekend and Italy welcome Ireland to the Stadio Olimpico.