2018 Six Nations: Can Sunday best pave way for second best?

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Six Nations 2018: Wales 38-14 Italy highlights

Job done. That was Warren Gatland's message after watching his new look Wales side defeat Italy and lift themselves to second in the Six Nations.

Five tries, including a dynamic double from the returning George North, and another bonus point win over hapless Italy who have now lost 16 successive Six Nations matches.

Not enough to challenge Ireland for a Six Nations crown Wales have not won for five years. But satisfactory nonetheless as Gatland now looks to cement second place with victory over France next weekend as a rejuvenated Les Bleus comes to town after victory over England in Paris.

Sunday best

Six Nations Sunday rugby is a rare concept in Wales. And it does not quite feel right.

Throw in that it was Mother's Day and it was a surreal Six Nations experience at the Principality Stadium.

Ireland had already been crowned champions 24-hours before, so Wales were only playing for second spot.

Gatland also ensured there was little familiarity with the Wales team he selected with 10 changes from the team that lost to Ireland.

Changes not a problem

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Gatland 'not that happy' with carded Williams

Making that number of alterations was always going to cause a bit of a stir.

Accusations of disrespect towards the Italians surfaced, while it was going to be a gamble with Wales making wholesale changes, which has not always worked in the past.

The aim was to expose players to Test level and create strength in depth with the 2019 World Cup in Japan in mind.

After a storming start, followed by a late first-half wobble, the experiment was justified as Wales secured a home bonus point. Recalled Lions Lions North, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau while Owen Watkins, Elliott Dee, James Davies and Gareth Anscombe demonstrated glimpses of their talents.

"To make that many changes and score the points we did was pleasing," said Gatland.

"There were elements we need to learn from but we achieved what we wanted.

"It is always tough when we make a number of changes and that cohesion takes a bit of time.

"That was pretty reflective in the way we played."

The headline selection had been a first cap for Scarlets flanker Davies. Gatland seemed satisfied, although praise came with a caveat.

"James had nice touches and worked hard to get on the ball," said Gatland.

"He listened pretty well with the referee at the breakdown although he gave away a pretty stupid first-half penalty in. But he knew that."

Is second best good enough?

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Six Nations: France 22-16 England highlights

'Super Saturday' might struggle to captivate people for the whole day next weekend.

Italy host Scotland before Ireland aim to complete a Grand Slam at Twickenham and Wales and France provide the finale in Cardiff.

With Ireland already crowned champions, England, Wales, France and Scotland will be battling it out to finish between second and fifth.

Scant consolation perhaps for a tournament which Wales won three times between 2008 and 2013. But with financial implications, Wales know a bonus point win over France will secure second.

"We have the destiny in our hands where we can finish second," said Gatland.

"Ireland deserve to win the tournament but they know in winning this competition you need that little bit of luck.

"What is great about this competition is five teams could have all won the tournament and are capable of beating each other on the day."

Selection headaches

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George North extends the lead for Wales

Who will be in that Welsh side to face France?

North overcame a week where he was maligned by Northampton for missing an Aviva Premiership match with doubts over his immediate club future.

He showed his class with two tries on his first Test start for almost a year to book his place in the back three but who will join him?

Steff Evans has been ever present during the tournament, while Liam Williams blotted his copybook with his yellow card for a dangerous tackle.

Gatland chose not to restore Williams in the second-half, with Leigh Halfpenny coming on and impressing at full-back.

Gareth Anscombe was the third starting fly-half in as many games after Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell. Gatland will have to decide whether go back to the tried and trusted Biggar at 10.

Wales fly-half Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe made just his second Test start at fly-half for Wales against Italy

"Hopefully it will be tough," said Gatland.

"When we sit down as a group of coaches to select the side, it will be nice to have dilemmas in a number of positions."

That includes the back-row with the all new starting trio of James Davies, Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric impressing after replacing Ross Moriarty, Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi.

"I was pleased with the back-row trio, it was the first time they had played together and they did a pretty good job," added Gatland.

"I thought Justin Tipuric was outstanding, it was the best I have seen him compete on the ball and play for a long time."

The Glue man

Hadleigh Parkes celebrates as he goes over to score Wales' opening try
New Zealand born Hadleigh Parkes only qualified to play for Wales on residency in December 2017

One man who will be in the starting side against France is New Zealand born centre Hadleigh Parkes who picked up his second man-of-the-match award in five Tests since making his debut against South Africa in December 2017.

"Basically he doesn't make any mistakes," said Gatland.

"He has the all-round game and is a bit of glue there for us. We know we have some outstanding players who can be brilliant at times.

"They need a clear head around to cool them down and make sure they make the right decisions."

Wales might have to settle for second best this time around, but the signs are encouraging with the World Cup looming ever larger on the horizon.

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