15 - 20
(Half Time 9 - 7)
Sat 14th Mar 09, 15:00
Venue: Stadio Flaminio
Referee: Alan Lewis
14 March 2009, 5:36 pm
Shanklin keeps Welsh hopes alive
Tom Shanklin's late try as a replacement meant Wales beat Italy 20-15 and remained on course for an RBS 6 Nations title decider against Ireland.
Wing Shane Williams scored his 46th Test try and substitute Shanklin touched down eight minutes from time, while fly-half James Hook added 10 points from the boot to thwart an Italian side after full-back Andrea Marcato kicked five penalties.
RBS 6 Nations strugglers Italy, without a win in the tournament this season, led 15-13 entering the closing stages before Shanklin’s vital score.
Wales arrived in Rome in pursuit of a comprehensive victory to revive their RBS 6 Nations title hopes.
The reigning RBS 6 Nations champions, beaten by France last time out, showed nine changes from that Paris setback, including starts for centre Gavin Henson, fly-half James Hook, prop Rhys Thomas and flanker Dafydd Jones.
Ospreys lock Alun-Wyn Jones, meanwhile, became the youngest forward to captain Wales since 1934, with last season’s Grand Slam skipper Ryan Jones on the bench.
Italy, rock-bottom after conceding 100 points and 12 tries in losing their opening three RBS 6 Nations games, handed a full debut to Parma wing Giulio Rubini, and Gloucester prop Carlos Nieto replaced vastly-experienced Leicester tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni.
It was like a home game for the visitors, with thousands of red-shirted supporters basking in glorious spring sunshine as the temperature nudged 20 degrees.
It served notice that the home side had no intention of just rolling over, and they took a deserved sixth-minute lead when full-back Andrea Marcato slotted a penalty.
Marcato’s kick came after referee Alan Lewis penalised the Wales front row, which was a totally changed unit from the one on duty in Paris two weeks ago.
The visitors had expected an early Azzurri onslaught, and so it proved, with Marcato sacrificing a kickable penalty for territory in the corner when Wales lock Luke Charteris was punished for killing possession.
And Italy closed out an impressive opening quarter by launching another attack, as Mirco Bergamasco chased a kick that Wales full-back Lee Byrne smothered.
Wales should have drawn level in the 21st minute, but Hook missed a penalty from in front of the posts that confirmed an error-strewn team performance.
Wales boss Warren Gatland would have been infuriated at what was unfolding in front of him, but his team gave him cause for optimism 14 minutes before the break.
A belated spell of Welsh pressure produced its reward when Henson cleverly switched attacking direction and wing Shane Williams scored a simple overlap try.
It was his Wales record-equalling eighth try against Italy, and left him one short of matching Gareth Edwards’ Wales best of 18 in Five or Six Nations rugby.
Hook atoned for his earlier error by slotting the extras, giving Wales a 7-3 lead, but the visitors still had plenty of work to do.
And there were further problems for the Wales front-row, as they conceded a second penalty that Marcato kicked, cutting the deficit to one point.
Marcato completed his hat-trick five minutes before the break after Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones took out Azzurri scrum-half Paul Griffen off the ball, and Wales were back to square one.
And they had a lucky escape on the stroke of half-time, when wing Mark Jones just managed to ground possession behind his own line under pressure from Italy flanker Alessandro Zanni.
It meant Italy ended the opening 40 minutes with an attacking scrum, and only more impressive defensive resilience by the heavily-worked Jones kept them out.
And with skipper Sergio Parisse offering a box of tricks off the back of the scrum, Wales had their hands full.
Italy deserved to be more than two points ahead, and it was Azzurri head coach Nick Mallett who made the first changes, sending on Castrogiovanni and lock Carlo del Fava after 50 minutes.
As a frantic third quarter edged towards its close, so the Italian forwards stepped up a gear after Castrogiovanni’s arrival and Marcato booted his fourth penalty for a 12-7 advantage.
Gatland then began to use his bench, sending on three reinforcements up front in prop Gethin Jenkins, hooker Matthew Rees and back-row ace Ryan Jones, before a Hook penalty narrowed the deficit again to two points.
A Hook penalty after 65 minutes inched Wales ahead, but the game remained poised on a knife edge.
Byrne was then replaced by Shanklin, yet the centre’s first contribution was to concede a penalty 35 metres out and Marcato made it five kicks out of five.
The unthinkable prospect of defeat continued to loom large for Wales, trailing 15-13 with nine minutes left.
But it was the cue for Shanklin to make amends by scoring a quality try, dummying Marcato as he crossed the line after superb approach work by Hook.
Hook converted and there were signs that Wales could at last begin to breathe easily after what had been a totally sub-standard display.