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Rugby | Six Nations

Leigh Halfpenny © Action Images

Wales overwhelm Italy in the rain



Second-half tries by Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert helped seal a 26-9 win over Italy and keep Wales' Six Nations title defence on track in difficult conditions at the Olympic Stadium here on Saturday.

Wales went in at halftime 9-6 to the good after Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties to the two coverted for the hosts by Kris Burton.

However neither team would boast of dominating the other in a dire opening half beset by periodic spells of heavy rain.

Wales, looking for their second win of the tournament having beaten France in Paris after an opening defeat to Ireland, finally found their stride after the interval.

"It was a good performance, especially up front," said Davies. "The boys were fantastic and worked really hard. As a backline we had to keep our errors down and put them in the right places.

"To be fair, the pack were on fire today."

It was only Wales' second win in their last 10 games, and interim coach Rob Howley was taking positives from the game ahead of their next fixture away to Scotland.

"You learn a hell of a lot losing by those small margins," said Howley, acting as head coach in the absence of Warren Gatland, who has been seconded to the British and Irish Lions.

"The conditions were difficult and we adapted really well, I was impressed with our scrum and that gave us the platform.

"In the second half we were clinical and took all our opportunities."

Italy were unlucky not to be rewarded in the first minute of the second half when the Welsh defence were guilty of handling errors. Only Tomasso Benvenuti's failure to collect the ball and carry it over the tryline from two metres out stopped the hosts from earning a potential game-changing try.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel refused to single out Benvenuti for criticism. Instead, he pointed the finger at his entire squad.

"We did't manage the game well, especially in the first half," he said.

"We didn't put them under pressure, our kicking was irregular and Wales were more precise.

"Their kicking was better and Wales were generally more efficient.

"Our game just wasn't there, it seemed. You could say we struggled more than the Welsh did in these conditions."

Italy were without captain Sergio Parisse, who was banned for 30 days after insulting the refeere while playing for Stade Francais.

Although his replacement, Fijian-born No 8 Manoa Vosawai, proved efficient, Parisse's absence appeared to tell as the hosts failed to really get going as they had against France in a 23-18 win in their tournament opener.

Italy's earlier fumble was to prove costly minutes later when they failed to deal with Mike Phillips' short kick deep into territory, allowing Davies to collect from five metres out and touch down unchallenged.

Halfpenny converted to give Wales a 16-6 lead.

Burton eventually gave Italy their first points of the half in the 50th minute when he kicked a penalty from 25 metres out, however the arrival of Paul James and Alun Wyn Jones to the Welsh pack immediately paid dividends when yet another Italian scrum infringement gave the visitors a penalty.

From 40 metres out, Halfpenny saw his angled kick go between the posts to restore Wales' 10-point lead.

Brunel made a series of replacements, but were later penalised when Martin Castrogiovanni, standing in as captain for Parisse, was sin-binned for persistent infringements at the scrum.

A superb push to the Italian 22 by Phillips gave Wales possession and when Gonzalo Canale was caught cold by a dummy runner, Cuthbert was free to run through for his seventh try in 16 international matches.

Halfpenny converted from the right touchline to give the visitors a virtually unassailable lead of 26-9.

Wales sent on Sam Warburton, who captained the side to the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup but started on the bench, although he replaced Ryan Jones and not Justin Tipuric.

James Hook also provided some extra spark for the remainder, in which a toothless Italy failed to threaten.

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