George North scored a second-half hat-trick as Wales thrashed Italy 61-20, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Welsh went into this match at the Stadio Olimpico with a points difference of +12, compared to England's +37 and Ireland's +33, and boosted it to +53. It wouldn't be enough, though, as Ireland smashed Scotland 40-10 at Murrayfield.
While Wales needed tries, and lots of them, they were conservative early on, opting to let Leigh Halfpenny take the three points on offer, instead of kicking for touch, which saw the teams locked at 6-6 after 12 minutes. Kelly Haimona had opened the scoring with a first-minute penalty, but the Italy flyhalf left the field soon after with a shoulder injury.
The visitors took the lead at the end of the first quarter when Halfpenny's grubber sat up nicely for Jamie Roberts, who dived over to score. But Italy hit back five minutes later with a converted try from Giovanbattista Venditti that put them ahead 13-11.
With Halfpenny having left the field for good with concussion, Dan Biggar regained the lead for Wales with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, and the visitors extended it to eight early in the second half when Rhys Webb took a quick penalty tap and put Liam Williams away for the try.
Two minutes later, and Williams collected a poor Italian chip kick and broke away, before giving the try-scoring pass to North.
No sooner had Italy centre Andrea Masi been yellow-carded for tackling the man without the ball than North grabbed his second. The winger then went over for his hat-trick to make it 42-13 with 20 minutes to go.
Masi returned to the field for Italy, only for replacement Quintin Geldenhuys to be sin-binned for collapsing a maul soon afterwards.
Webb then darted away from the back of another maul to score Wales' sixth try, before Sam Warburton burst away to take his team past the 50-point mark.
Wales got another try, through replacement Scott Williams, but crucially conceded one at the death when Leonardo Sarto dotted down in the corner.
Italy – Tries: Giovanbattista Venditti, Leonardo Sarto. Conversions: Luciano Orquera (2). Penalties: Kelly Haimona, Luciano Orquera.
Wales – Tries: Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, George North (3), Rhys Webb, Sam Warburton, Scott Williams. Conversions: Dan Biggar (6). Penalties: Halfpenny (2), Biggar.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Enrico Bacchin.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 22 Scott Williams.
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images