Autumn Nations Cup: Wales 38-18 Italy

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales
Kieran Hardy scores his first try for Wales
Scarlets scrum-half Kieran Hardy scores his first try for Wales
Autumn Nations Cup
Wales (14) 38
Tries: Hardy, Parry, G Davies, North, Tipuric Cons: Sheedy 5 Pen: Sheedy
Italy (13) 18
Tries: Zanon, Meyer; Con: Garbisi Pen: Garbisi 2

Wales ended 2020 as they started it, claiming victory over Italy as they finished fifth in the Autumn Nations Cup in Llanelli.

Wales built an early 14-0 lead through tries from Kieran Hardy and Sam Parry.

Italy scored tries through Marco Zanon and Johan Meyer to claim an early second-half lead.

But Wales responded with tries from Gareth Davies, George North and Justin Tipuric to seal victory, with Callum Sheedy adding 13 points.

Wayne Pivac's side were indebted to brilliant back-row displays from Tipuric and man-of-the-match Taulupe Faletau.

The pair gave British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland a reminder of their talents with a view to next year's summer tour of South Africa.

North also provided a powerful midfield presence in the unfamiliar outside centre position, while replacement scrum-half Davies was the most influential of an impressive replacements bench.

Wales also overcame injuries to captain Alun Wyn Jones and full-back Liam Williams.

The win gives some breathing space to Pivac but will not paper over the cracks of a disappointing 2020 that has seen them claim only three wins and suffer seven defeats in the year.

Wales defeated Italy 42-0 at a packed Principality Stadium in February before facing each other again in an empty Parc y Scarlets stadium after they both finished third in their respective pools.

Wales recalled North in a team showing 10 changes from last weekend's loss to England, while Welsh-born teenage scrum-half Stephen Varney made his first start for Italy.

Varney was brought up in Pembrokeshire but qualifies for Italy through his Italian-born grandparents on the side of his mother Valeria.

Wales initially showed what they have been attempting in attack with Faletau releasing Tipuric in midfield as the Ospreys back row broke through the line.

Tipuric demonstrated typical calmness in throwing an outrageous dummy before releasing Hardy for his first international try.

Another flowing move from Liam Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit provided the platform down the left wing for hooker Parry to eventually burrow over for a try on his first Wales start.

Full-back Williams was forced off the field and replaced by teenager Ioan Lloyd.

Italy secured their first points through Paolo Garbisi before a clever Carlo Canna kick exposed the Wales back-field defence, allowing centre Zanon to collect and canter over.

Wales' discipline with eight penalties conceded at the breakdown in the first half allowed Italy back into the game.

A transgression from wing Josh Adams resulted in a yellow card following an incisive counter-attack from Varney.

Garbisi slotted over a penalty to reduce the deficit to 14-13 at the interval.

Wales initially managed the opening minutes of the second half with their numerical disadvantage cleverly, with Sheedy slotting over a penalty.

Italy eventually made the extra man tell as they exposed the naivety of Wales young players, with Lloyd's aimless kick pounced upon with a counter-attack from full-back Jacopo Trulla.

The ball was moved right and Rees-Zammit was too slow to listen to North's call to stay out allowing Meyer to glide outside the Wales wing and emphatically bump off Lloyd to score.

Wales regained the lead when Tipuric and Faletau again turned providers as they released replacement scrum-half Davies to speed away to score.

Wales captain Jones had been limping for five minutes before he finally left the field to be replaced by hooker Elliot Dee because specialist second row Cory Hill had already come on for Will Rowlands.

Wales overcame that disruption to turn over possession and North powered over for Wales' fourth try.

Sheedy's delayed pass to the impressive Faletau allowed the Wales number eight to give a deserved try-scoring assist to allow Tipuric to fittingly complete the scoring.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac: "For us it was really important to win the game and get some more questions answered about some of the young players.

"Some of the older boys stood up and in the end we got a reasonable result.

"As frustrating as this eight-week campaign has been at times we have learned a lot, now we need a squad that can do well in the Six Nations."

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Wales: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Louis Rees-Zammit; Callum Sheedy, Kieran Hardy; Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), James Botham, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Gareth Davies, Ioan Lloyd, Jonah Holmes.

Italy: Jacopo Trulla; Luca Sperandio, Marco Zanon, Carlo Canna, Monty Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (capt), Giosuè Zilocchi, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolo Cannone, Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer, Braam Steyn.

Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, Pietro Ceccarelli, Cristian Stoian, Michele Lamaro, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tommaso Allan, Federico Mori.

Match officials

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (RFU) and Alex Ruiz (FFR)

Television match official: Pascal Gauzere (FFR).

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