6N: Wales eyeing 2nd place, Italy eyeing respect
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — For Wales coach Warren Gatland, it’s a story of what might have been in the Six Nations.
If only Gareth Anscombe hadn’t had a try incorrectly ruled out in the 12-6 loss to England in round two.
If only Anscombe’s pass had found teammate Justin Tipuric to set up a 3-on-1 instead of being intercepted for a try in injury time of the 37-27 loss to Ireland in round three.
“We score with a bonus point and are top of the table,” an optimistic Gatland says.
“We don’t feel we are too far away.”
The reality for the Welsh is they are in fourth place after three games and effectively out of title contention already. Second place is the best they can attain, and it’s possible with home games to finish against Italy on Sunday and France on the final day.
“That would be a reasonable result,” says Gatland, who boldly declared “We’ll win the tournament” at the event launch in January.
The aspect of Wales’ game that has most impressed Gatland has been the attack as his players look to move on from the hard-running “Warrenball” approach that has characterized the team for the past decade.
Tryless against England, Wales has scored a total of seven tries against Ireland and Scotland, and Gatland reckons there’ll be more from his “exciting” team selection for Italy.
Among the 10 changes were starts for Lions wing George North - his first of the championship - and flanker Justin Tipuric. Taulupe Faletau is captain for the first time in the absence of the rested Alun Wyn Jones.
If the changes look disrespectful of an Italy side Wales has beaten 11 straight times, Italy coach Conor O’Shea rubbished the idea.
“I remember working with Warren when I was a player and he came in when Ireland were at a low ebb. He started a process there for the future, and you have to start somewhere,” O’Shea says.
“Scotland had to do it, and the results Scotland are having now isn’t about one coach coming in, it’s about people five, six or seven years ago doing what’s right. That’s what we are doing. If you look at some of the young players we are blooding, it’s promising.
“I know I am judged on results, but frankly I don’t care. What we will do is what’s right.
“Gats has done brilliantly, and I know he is trying to evolve his depth.”
Italy has lost all three of its games, conceding 136 points and 18 tries. A third straight wooden spoon is likely. But O’Shea has changed only one after losing to France 34-17, dropping center Tommaso Boni to give in-form Zebre teammate Giulio Bisegni his first test in a year.
O’Shea doesn’t care for Italy’s critics. The team is young, and progress is more obvious in the background, he says. He’s working to make Italy a contender in five, six or seven years.
“Are we far off?” he poses. “No, we are not.”
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies; Taulupe Faletau (captain), James Davies, Justin Tipuric, Bradley Davies, Cory Hill, Tomas Francis, Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Ken Owens, Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Aled Davies, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny.
Italy: Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Benvenuti, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Allan, Marcello Violi; Sergio Parisse (captain), Maxime Mbanda , Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd, Alessandro Zanni, Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Oliviero Fabiani, Nicola Quaglio, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Licata, Guglielmo Palazzani, Carlo Canna, Jayden Hayward.