Second-half tries by Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert helped seal a 26-9 win over Italy and keep Wales’ Six Nations title defense on track in difficult conditions at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
Wales went in at halftime 9-6 to the good after Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties to the two converted for the hosts by Kris Burton.
However, neither team would boast of dominating the other in a dire opening half beset by periodic spells of heavy rain.
Wales, looking for their second win of the tournament, having beaten France in Paris after an opening defeat to Ireland, finally found their stride after the interval.
“It was a good performance, especially up front,” Davies said. “The boys were fantastic and worked really hard. As a backline we had to keep our errors down and put them in the right places. To be fair, the pack were on fire today.”
It was only Wales’ second win in their past 10 games and interim coach Rob Howley was taking positives from the game ahead of their next fixture away to Scotland.
“You learn a hell of a lot losing by those small margins,” said Howley, acting as head coach in the absence of Warren Gatland, who has been seconded to the British and Irish Lions.
“The conditions were difficult and we adapted really well, I was impressed with our scrum and that gave us the platform. In the second half we were clinical and took all our opportunities,” he added.
Italy were unlucky not to be rewarded in the first minute of the second half when the Welsh defense were guilty of handling errors. Only Tomasso Benvenuti’s failure to collect the ball and carry it over the tryline from 2m out stopped the hosts from earning a potential game-changing try.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel refused to single out Benvenuti for criticism.
Instead, he pointed the finger at his entire squad.
“We didn’t manage the game well, especially in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t put them under pressure, our kicking was irregular and Wales were more precise.”
Italy were without captain Sergio Parisse, who was banned for 30 days after insulting the referee while playing for Stade Francais.
Although his Fijian-born replacement, No. 8 Manoa Vosawai, proved efficient, Parisse’s absence appeared to tell as the hosts failed to really get going as they had against France in a 23-18 win in their tournament opener.
Italy’s earlier fumble was to prove costly minutes later when they failed to deal with Mike Phillips’ short kick deep into territory, allowing Davies to collect from 5m out and touch down unchallenged.
Halfpenny converted to give Wales a 16-6 lead.
Burton eventually gave Italy their first points of the half in the 50th minute when he kicked a penalty from 25m out, but the arrival of Paul James and Alun Wyn Jones to the Welsh pack immediately paid dividends when yet another Italian scrum infringement gave the visitors a penalty.
From 40m out, Halfpenny saw his angled kick go between the posts to restore Wales’ 10-point lead.
Brunel made a series of replacements, but were later penalized when Martin Castrogiovanni, standing in as captain for Parisse, was sin-binned for persistent infringements at the scrum.
A superb push to the Italian 22 by Phillips gave Wales possession and when Gonzalo Canale was caught cold by a dummy runner, Cuthbert was free to run through for his seventh try in 16 international matches.