Wales Come a Cropper in Rome
10th March 2007 By Munster Rugby
Wales in the post-Ruddock era, continue to set records, this time losing for the first time in Italy when they were beaten 23-20 in the Stadio Flaminio in Rome
Wales looked to have taken a winning lead when James Hook kicked a 53rd minute penalty for a 20-13 lead but a Ramiro Pez strike and his conversion of Mauro Bergamasco’s 77th minute try gave Italy back-to-back Six Nations wins for the first time in their history. It was somewhat ironic that Bergamasco should deliver the killer blow given that he delivered another type of blow to Stephen Jones that could have him with explanations to give when the tape of the match is reviewed.
That aside however, no-one could begrudge the Italians a victory that owed little to luck or good fortune.
Italy were first to cross the try line when Matteo Pratichetti went over but was correctly whistled back for a forward pass. They continued to persist and with the wind at his back, Pez was wide from 57 metres but made amends in the 11th minute with a successful strike from the left.
He was again on the mark in the 19th minute with a kick from near half way but Wales took the lead five minutes later with a superb try from Shane Williams. It was instigated by James Hook with a carefully weighted chip that Tom Shanklin collected and when he was tackled, he off-loaded to Williams whose blistering pace quickly burned off the chasing defenders.
Italy suffered a serious blow when impressive centre Gonzalo Canale was forced off after shipping a knee injury in a tackle from Shanklin. He was replaced by Calvisano flanker Marco Zaffiri and that meant Mauro Bergamasco going to the centre with his brother Mirco moving to the wing to accommodate.
The older Bergamasco was lucky to remain on the field when he caught Stephen Jones with a punch (‘a cheap shot’, according to former Welsh great Jonathan Davies commentating on BBC) that forced the Scarlet off to have four stitches inserted in a gash over the eye.
The home side regained the lead in somewhat bizarre circumstances when James Hook set off on a try threatening break, lost possession in the tackle and when Italy hoofed the ball downfield, with no-one at home, New Zealander wing Kaine Robertson, not surprisingly outpaced lock Ian Gough to score under the posts and send Italy into the break leading 13-7.
Wales started the second half with intent and Hook cut the Italian lead with penalty after two minutes, followed with a conversion of Matthew Rees’ try under the posts two minutes later and a third successful kick had Wales if not in a commanding lead, then certainly in a dominant mode.
But trailing 13-20 Italy refused to give in and still were creating chances. No more so than in the 57th minute when they had Wales under all sorts of pressure five metres out. But with runners wide on the left they insisted on trying to batter their way over and were denied and eventually penalised to allow Wales lift the siege.
Pez landed a 72nd minute penalty to leave a single score (16-20) separating the sides and after Wales turned over ball a little over two minute later, Italy opted to go for touch rather than the posts.
It was a big call. It was the right call because after a succession of forward assaults on the Welsh line Alessandro Troncon went to Pez and his chip was grounded by Bergamasco for a 23-20 lead.
Then the controversy. With ten second left, Wales were awarded a penalty. They consulted referee Chris White and opted to go for touch and possibly the win rather than the posts and a possible draw.
Once Hook kicked it to touch, referee White blew the final whistle, to be immediately surrounded by Welsh players who were convinced there was time for one last play.