Italy win again in Cardiff and pass the Six Nations wooden spoon to Wales

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Italy earned another historic win in Cardiff and left Wales with the dreaded wooden spoon for finishing last in the Six Nations on Saturday.

The Azzurri comfortably won 24-21 to complete their greatest Six Nations.

They have avoided defeat in three consecutive matches for the first time and racked up a record number of competition points, 11. They finished fifth in the end, hurt by gaining only one bonus point.

“We’ve been through lots of difficult moments and now we can celebrate the good ones,” captain Michele Lamaro said before his team went on a deserved lap of honor. They finished with a draw in France and wins over Scotland and Wales — in Cardiff for a second straight time.

Italy received the wooden spoon in the previous eight years, and passed it to Wales for the first time in 21 years after the Welsh lost all five games in the championship.

“We’re probably at rock bottom,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said.

He offered post-match to resign. “I just said to Abi (Tierney, the Welsh Rugby Union CEO), ‘If you want me to resign, I’ll do that.’ She said, ‘Like hell.’”

Perhaps a fear of the spoon was the reason Wales seemed anxious, especially in the first half. A swag of basic errors made Wales easier to handle for a highly confident Italy with a superior scrum and panic-free defense.

Only when it trailed 18-0 after 46 minutes did Wales shrug off its caution. But Italy moved ahead 24-7. Then a couple of very late converted tries gave Wales a flattering scoreline.

The humbling was compounded by the sad sight in the dying moments of George North needing help to limp off with a suspected right Achilles strain in his 124th and last test match. This was North’s swansong to a great 14-year test career.

Despite Wales’ losing streak, the bookmakers had the host a nine-point favorite in front of more than 10,000 empty seats in Principality Stadium. But Italy’s form and power and defense controlled the match from the start.

“We have had a good tournament but know we can do better than this,” Lamaro said. “The mindset of what we take into the pitch is something we’ve never had before. We’re confident. We still have to be more consistent in what we’re doing and be competitive with every single team in the tournament.”

Perfect jackals by Danilo Fischetti and Lamaro gave Paolo Garbisi two early penalties. Then brilliant movement and handling by backs Garbisi, Tommaso Menoncello and Monty Ioane opened up Wales and Ioane ended up scoring untouched.

Italy’s 11-0 halftime lead became 18-0. An Adam Beard neck roll on Italy counterpart Federico Ruzza stopped a Wales charge. From lineout ball, Garbisi put Ioane in a gap and Lorenzo Pani — at fullback after a broken finger sidelined Ange Capuozzo — swerved to the tryline leaving defenders sprawled in his wake.

The arrival of midfielder Mason Grady boosted Wales. Scrumhalf Tomos Williams looked like scoring until he was cut down from behind by Italy’s Ross Vintcent and turned over by Manuel Zuliani. Wales then went more direct and hooker Elliot Dee was awarded a try after he was lifted over the line by Zuliani.

Penalties by Garbisi and Martin Page-Relo sent Italy 24-7 up but, with victory certain under the roof, they relaxed, and Wales grabbed late tries by Will Rowlands and Grady, both converted by Ioan Lloyd. They couldn’t prevent Wales losing 12 of its last 13 Six Nations matches, and the last seven at home.

“This rebuild isn’t harder than we thought,” Gatland said. “We knew the inexperience we had in the squad and the players we asked to step up to leadership roles. For us it’s about taking the good out of the games and showing what we need to do. I can’t question the efforts of the boys.”


AP rugby:

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