Six Nations 2024: Wales 21-24 Italy – visitors consign Wales to first Wooden Spoon in 21 years

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Wales (0) 21
Tries: Dee, Rowlands, Grady Cons: Costelow, I Lloyd 2
Italy (11) 24
Tries: Ioane, Pani Cons: Garbisi Pens: Garbisi 3, Page-Relo

Italy beat Wales in Cardiff to achieve their most successful Six Nations and consign their hosts to a first Wooden Spoon in 21 years.

A try from wing Monty Ioane and two Paulo Garbisi penalties gave Italy an 11-0 half-time lead.

Full-back Lorenzo Pani added a brilliant score with Garbisi and Martin Page-Relo kicking penalties.

Wales responded with tries from Elliot Dee, Will Rowlands and Mason Grady to give the score some respectability.

The three-point margin of defeat flattered Wales with Italy’s win ensuring a repeat of the 2022 victory in Cardiff.

It was a sad end to centre George North’s Wales career as he was was helped from the field in the closing stages in his final Test after announcing his international retirement.

Inspirational Italy

This was the first time since 2015 and the past eight tournaments Italy had not finished bottom of the Six Nations table.

It has been a dramatic turnaround after they conceded 156 points in the final two 2023 World Cup pool defeats against New Zealand and France when Kieran Crowley was in charge.

Head coach Gonzalo Quesada has come in and following defeats by England and Ireland, guided his side to an away draw against France and victories against Scotland and Wales.

Italy have previously finished fourth, but the two victories and a draw is their most successful tournament of results since they joined the Six Nations in 2000.

The Azzurri had never avoided defeat in three consecutive Championship matches and had only won two matches in a Six Nations, in 2007 and 2013.

Wales woe

In contrast, this Wales side are rivalling the results of the awful days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This was a 12th defeat in the last 13 games in the tournament, including seven successive Six Nations home losses.

The only time Wales have previously lost all five of their Six Nations fixtures was in 2003 under Steve Hansen. Two years later Wales won the Grand Slam.

You would currently get good odds for that happening again given the current state of Welsh rugby which has been allowed to decline by the powerbrokers in recent years.

New Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chief executive Abi Tierney has promised an overall strategy by June. It is long overdue.

This situation has been coming. Wales won the Six Nations title in 2021, but in 2020, 2022 and 2023 they finished fifth with only one victory in each tournament.

Now they have the suffered the humiliation of five defeats in one competition with the latest seeing them slip to 10th in the world rankings and Italy rise to eighth.

Is Gatland still the man?

The question will now be whether Warren Gatland is the man to lead the rebuild and revival, a coach who won three Grand Slams and reached two World Cup semi-finals during his first 12-year stint in charge.

The WRU think so with the executive director of rugby Nigel Walker previously calling Gatland the best coach in the world.

Since he returned to replace Wayne Pivac in December 2022, Gatland has only won one game in 10 Six Nations matches – against Italy in Rome last year.

His overall record of his second spell in charge is six wins in 18 games, with four of those victories coming in the World Cup in France last year where Wales reached the quarter-finals before losing to Argentina.

Gatland has lost a lot of experience in the past year with the retirements of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Josh Navidi, Leigh Halfpenny and now North.

Liam Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Tomas Francis, Taulupe Faletau, Jac Morgan, Taine Plumtree, Christ Tshiunza and Dewi Lake have been unavailable for this campaign because of injury or club commitments.

That has left Gatland handing Cardiff’s Cameron Winnett, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin and Evan Lloyd a chance when they have played only a handful of professional games.

Gatland will also reflect on some of his own decisions, with his selections and replacement decisions during matches.

Grady and Rowlands reminded him of their talents against Italy in a campaign in which they were noticeably underutilised.

It will not get easier as Wales prepare to play world champions South Africa and Australia this summer.

North bids farewell

The afternoon had started full of emotion as North led the side out on his 121st cap for the final time.

It was 13 and a half years after he made his debut as an 18-year-old against South Africa when he scored two tries in November 2010.

Four Six Nations titles, four World Cups and two Grand Slams later, only Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins have more caps, only Shane Williams has scored more tries.

North, who was visibly emotional during the anthem, returned with Nick Tompkins after the centre pair were omitted from the starting side against France, with Joe Roberts and Owen Watkin dropped on this occasion.

Despite the endeavour, the Italy centres of player-of-the-match Juan Ignacio Brex and Tommaso Menoncello outplayed their opponents.

Quesada made three changes with full-back Ange Capuozzo injured and replaced by Pani, while Wales-born scrum-half Stephen Varney and number eight Lorenzo Cannone also started.

Italy in control

Garbisi opened the scoring with two penalties as Wales looked laboured in the early exchanges.

Italy proved slick and a fluent move saw wing Ioane cross for the opening try. The home side were guilty of a series of unforced errors in the first half, typified by a mix-up between fly-half Sam Costelow and full-back Winnett which resulted in a needless knock-on.

The frustration spilled over when kicking coach Neil Jenkins had words with French referee Mathieu Raynal after a potential Italy high tackle. It ended with Raynal warning Jenkins about his conduct.

In four of the five games in the tournament, Wales failed to register a single point in a half and the opening 40 minutes against Italy was as poor as Gatland’s side have been.

Wales started the second half encouragingly following breaks from Rio Dyer and Tomos Williams, but a neck roll penalty was given away by Adam Beard.

Italy demonstrated a significantly more clinical edge with a superbly well-worked try from a first phase line-out with the space created for Pani. Garbisi converted.

Too little, too late for Wales

Wales turned to the bench by bringing on Rowlands and Grady, who provided Wales with some much-needed ball-carrying momentum.

Scrum-half Williams almost scored, but was denied by a brilliant covering tackle by Exeter number eight Ross Vintcent.

Williams was carried off before Dee was driven over to give Wales some hope, but Italy regrouped through two late penalties.

North was helped off to a standing ovation as Wales rallied with two last-gasp tries through Rowlands and Grady, who was the bright spark for Gatland’s side.

Italy will wonder how they only won by three points, but will celebrate their progress. For Wales, it is back to the drawing board.

Line-ups

Wales: Winnett; Adams, North, Tompkins, Dyer; Costelow, Tomos Williams; G Thomas, Dee, Lewis, Jenkins (capt), Beard, Mann, Reffell, Wainwright.

Replacements: E Lloyd, Mathias, O’Connor, Rowlands, Martin, Hardy, I Lloyd, Grady.

Italy: Pani; Lynagh, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; Garbisi, Varney; Fischetti, Nicotera, Ferrari, N Cannone, Ruzza, Negri, Lamaro (capt), L Cannone

Replacements: Lucchesi, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Favretto, Vintcent, Zuliani, Page-Relo, Marin.

Match officials

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Touch judges: Chris Busby (Ireland) & Morne Ferreira (South Africa)

TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

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