Before suffering a game-ending injury, Leigh Halfpenny kicked five penalties to guide Wales to a 23-19 victory over Italy in Cardiff on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Wales showed great mongrel to overcome a much-improved Italy side, but their victory may have come at a cost as both first-choice scrumhalf Rhys Webb and fullback Leigh Halfpenny were stretchered off the field.
Webb was taken off in the 25th minute after being driven back at a ruck and injured his left leg, while Halfpenny suffered a similar fate when he ran into an Italian defender chasing a high ball.
Italy were full value for their 11-8 advantage at the interval, having opened the scoring as early as the second minute of play.
Under the cosh deep inside their own half, captain Sergio Parisse intercepted a wild pass and raced away. He didn't have the legs to go all the way, as Wales' cover defence tracked back, but quick ball at the breakdown saw right wing Leonardo Sarto dive over for the try.
Flyhalf Tommy Allan skewed the conversion, but did add a penalty for an 8-0 lead. Wales responded in kind with a George North try, while Halfpenny and Allan subsequently traded penalties to end the half.
Wales came out firing in the second stanza and camped in Italy's territory. The Azzurri couldn't get their hands on the ball and conceded several penalties, to be punished by Halfpenny. The Toulon fullback goaled four more kicks to put some daylight between Wales and the visitors before he was injured.
Although Italy added a third penalty and second try, scored by replacement Guglielmo Palazzani, Dan Biggar's three-pointer was enough to secure victory for Wales.
Wales – Try: George North. Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny (5), Dan Biggar.
Italy – Tries: Leonardo Sarto, Guglielmo Palazzani. Penalties: Tommy Allan (3).
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Scott Williams, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 James King, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Italy – 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Luke McLean.
Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images