Cardiff - Warren Gatland heads into the final round of the
Six Nations something of a relieved man after Wales gave themselves a shot at
finishing second in this season's Championship.
The Wales coach saw his decision to make 10 changes to his
starting side rewarded with a 38-14, bonus-point win over Italy in Cardiff on
Had Wales failed to beat the struggling Azzurri, after
successive defeats by England and Ireland, the New Zealander would have faced
an uncomfortable few days leading up to Saturday's home finale against a
resurgent France, for all he might have learnt some valuable lessons regarding squad
depth ahead of next year's World Cup.
But instead Wales will kick off knowing another bonus-point
win over Les Bleus will assure them of the runners-up spot behind
already-crowned champions Ireland.
Wales enjoyed several sparkling moments while running in
five tries during their 12th consecutive victory over Italy but, unsurprisingly
given so many new combinations, errors also crept into their game.
"It was a job done, it's what we wanted," Gatland
said after a match where Wales wing George North bagged a try double, with
Hadleigh Parkes, Cory Hill and Justin Tipuric also crossing Italy's line.
"We've got a six-day turnaround and we've given players
an opportunity," the twice British and Irish Lions boss explained.
"To make 10 changes, score the points we did, and win
comfortably was the pleasing aspect."
Former Ireland coach Gatland added: "At times we looked
absolutely outstanding and great, and at other times we lacked cohesion.
"That's probably to be expected when guys have not
"But we achieved what we wanted to do, to get a bonus
point and have our destiny in our own hands next week to finish second in the
Wales won on Sunday despite being reduced to 13 men early in
the second half.
Liam Williams was shown a yellow card just before the break
for a high tackle on opposing fullback Matteo Minozzi, while scrumhalf Gareth
Davies followed him into the sin-bin soon after the interval for a deliberate
Williams' temporary exclusion was met by a chorus of boos
from a crowd of over 65 000, but Gatland had no complaints about the decision
of French referee Jerome Garces.
"I thought the yellow card was fair - we had no
problems with it," the coach said.
"I was disappointed in that if he needed to make the
tackle did he need to go that high?
When Williams' 10 minutes on the sidelines was up, Gatland
kept him off the field and sent first-choice fullback Leigh Halfpenny from the
bench to finish the game instead.
"The thing with Liam is that he's an emotional player,
it brings the best out of him," Gatland said.
"But we couldn't afford with that time on the clock for
something else to happen. If he had put his hand out like Gareth did, you are
potentially looking at a red card. So it was sending a subtle message
This latest reverse meant Italy had now lost 16 successive
Championship matches - only France with a run of 17 straight defeats from
1911-1920 have endured a longer losing streak in the Five or Six Nations.
But Italy will equal that unwanted record if they are beaten
by Scotland in Rome on Saturday.
As it is, the Azzurri are already guaranteed to finish
bottom of the table for the 13th time in 19 seasons since joining the
tournament in 2000.
But defiant Italy coach Conor O'Shea insisted better days
were on the horizon for his beleaguered side.
"We are doing a heck of a lot, we will fight every
battle and improve every week," he said.
The former Ireland fullback added: "If you go around the
clubs, see the Under-20s beating Wales, and look at the players coming through,
we are building a team and we are building a system piece by piece."