6N: Wales eyes Grand Slam after trouncing Italy 48-7 in Rome

ROME (AP) — Wales trounced Italy 48-7 in the Six Nations on Saturday to put it within 80 minutes of a second Grand Slam in three championships.

Wales secured the fourth bonus-point try within half an hour and led by a game-over 27-0. Wales finished with seven tries and had two more disallowed.

Next weekend, Wales will face France in Paris. A draw is enough for Wales to take the championship. A win gives Wales a record-tying 13th Grand Slam. It is an extraordinary transformation from last year, when Wales finished fifth and endured its worst Six Nations since 2007.

“To get that bonus point by halftime and have the luxury of pulling a few of the guys off that would normally go 80 minutes was a benefit for us,” Wales coach Wayne Pivac said.

“Going to Paris will be a different challenge for us. No fans neutralizes it a bit. We’ve been to Paris in the autumn so that’s a good thing.”

Italy suffered a record-extending 31st consecutive defeat — a 20th straight at home since 2013 — and had two players sent to the sin-bin for the second successive match. While they had the man advantage, the Welsh scored 26 points.

Pivac warned there would be no razzle-dazzle until they got on top of Italy, but the home side made it easy for them in an empty Stadio Olimpico.

Italy normally starts well — it scored the opening points against England and Ireland — but made a dreadful start in sunny conditions.

Paolo Garbisi’s kickoff went dead, captain Luca Bigi was yellow-carded after seven minutes for a professional foul, and a lukewarm Italy didn’t look like it had warmed up.

Wales pounced. First, from an attacking scrum, flyhalf Dan Biggar threw a flat, miss-out pass for left wing Josh Adams to catch and score, then No. 8 Taulupe Faletau scored when Wales worked lineout ball in the Italy 22 left and right, and Italy ran out of defenders.

It was all too easy for Wales, as hooker Ken Owens scored two similar tries within 10 minutes of each other from lineout mauls. The tries for Owens and Faletau were their first in tests since 2016.

“It would have been nice to get a hat trick and double my tally of international tries,” Owens said, “but it was a good chance to bring on the replacements.”

Wales thought it had a fifth try five minutes from halftime but right wing Louis Rees-Zammit was forward of Biggar for the final pass.

After the break, Wales’ procession continued when Jonathan Davies offloaded to midfield partner George North, who raced 30 meters to between the posts then was rested.

Pivac made seven substitutions in the third quarter, including resting captain Alun Wyn Jones to give Jake Ball a 50th cap, and the changes stuttered Wales’ momentum.

Italy was more intense in the second half, and scored a converted try out of nothing when left wing Montanna Ioane chipped over Rees-Zammit and collected before diving into the corner.

Adams missed a second try when his foot touched the line in Garbisi’s tackle before he grounded the ball.

But Wales wasn’t denied for long, thanks to Italy. Replacement forward Marco Riccioni was yellow-carded for leading with his forearm into the neck of Uilisi Halaholo.

Wales responded with tries to replacement flyhalf Callum Sheedy and an 80-meter intercept by Rees-Zammit to wrap up a 16th consecutive win against Italy, their most against one opponent.

“It’s a case of job done and plenty to work on,” captain Jones said.

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