Howley happy with troops' flexibility

Sun, 24 Feb 2013 12:13
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Wales interim coach Rob Howley hailed the flexibility of his players as they maintained their title defence hopes with a 26-9 victory over Italy.

Wales interim coach Rob Howley hailed the flexibility of his players as the Six Nations champions maintained their title defence hopes with a 26-9 victory over Italy.

Despite a 16-6 win over France last time out, Wales came into their third game of the series with question marks hovering - mainly because that win brought an end to seven straight defeats.

For the sizeable Welsh support in Rome it was a nervous day at a rain-soaked Olympic Stadium after the visitors went in for half-time leading only 9-6 after a flurry of penalties for both sides.

But after Tomasso Benvenuti missed a golden chance to give Italy the first try of the match early after the restart, Wales regrouped to score two tries through Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert.

Leigh Halfpenny, who had kicked all three of Wales's penalties in the first half - while Kris Burton put two penalties over for the Azzurri - converted both tries and went on to add a further penalty to finish on 16 points.

Wales next face Scotland at Murrayfield on March 9 and host unbeaten England a week later at the Millennium Stadium for what pundits have already labelled the championship title-decider.

Ahead of those challenges, Howley applauded his side's ability to adapt as periodic downpours in the first half ended all hopes for a game of open, flowing rugby.

"There weren't always going to be opportunities in a game like that and probably the conditions suited Italy," said Howley, acting as head coach after Warren Gatland took over British and Lions coaching duties.

"The deluge that came in the first half as well meant that the ball was very greasy and it was difficult under foot. We had to be flexible and change our gameplan a little bit.

"The second half was all about composure and patience. We were clinical ... and took our opportunities."

Wales dominated at the scrum and Halfpenny's kicking, despite some testing conditions and angles, was spot-on.

Howley added: "I thought our kicking game was exceptional, putting Italy back in their own 22 gained a lot of benefits.

"But to come away winning 26-9 is something which I would have taken at the beginning of the game."

Wales' sixth consecutive victory over the Azzurri was also their fourth consecutive away win for Wales in the tournament - a feat they last achieved in 1979.

For the hosts, it was a harsh return to reality after the euphoria of a deserved 23-18 win over France at the Olympic Stadium in near perfect conditions three weeks ago.

Italy next succumbed to a 34-10 defeat against a clinical Scotland at Murrayfield, and on Saturday gained little reward for a performance which left head coach Jacques Brunel mystified.

Italy were without captain and influential No.8 Sergio Parisse, who last week was handed a 30-day ban for insulting a referee while playing for French club side Stade Francais.

He was replaced by Fijian-born No.8 Manoa Vosawai, and while he proved efficient, Parisse's absence appeared to tell as the hosts struggled against an astute Welsh defence.

Brunel made a series of replacements, but Italy were later penalised when Martin Castrogiovanni, standing in as captain for Parisse, was sin-binned for persistent infringements at the scrum.

"I don't think the attitude of the players was the problem," said Brunel.

"We didn't manage the game well, especially in the first half. We didn't put them under pressure, our kicking was irregular and Wales were more precise.

"Their kicking was better and Wales were generally more efficient.

"Our game just wasn't there, it seemed. You could say we struggled more than the Welsh did in these conditions."

Italy face England at Twickenham on March 10 before capping their tournament by hosting Ireland six days later.

After their performance - and England's dismantling of France which kept their Grand Slam hopes alive - it seemed an understatement when a sheepish Castrogiovanni said: "Our next game won't be easy."

AFP
 

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Sat, 25 February 2017
Saracens v Sale Sharks 12h45 Allianz Park
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors 13h00 Franklin's Gardens
Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons 13h00 Sandy Park
Sun, 26 February 2017
Bristol v Bath 11h00 Ashton Gate
Wasps v Gloucester 12h30 Ricoh Arena
Treviso v Connacht 12h30 Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Zebre v Ulster 12h30 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Ospreys v Glasgow Warriors 13h05 Liberty Stadium
England v Italy 15h00 Twickenham Stadium
Mon, 27 February 2017
UCT-Ikeys v Maties 14h45 Cape Town
Rhodes v Fort Hare 16h30 Grahamstown
UWC v TUT 16h30 Cape Town
CPUT v UKZN-Impi 16h30 Cape Town
UP-Tuks v Wits 16h30 Pretoria
CUT-Ixias v UJ 16h30 Bloemfontein
Shimlas v NWU-Pukke 17h00 Bloemfontein
Thu, 02 March 2017
Force v Reds 10h30 Perth
Fri, 03 March 2017
Chiefs v Blues 06h35 Hamilton
Ulster v Treviso 19h35 Kingspan Stadium
Connacht v Zebre 19h35 Ascoli Piceno
Edinburgh v Ospreys 19h35 Myreside
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints 20h15 AJ Bell Stadium
Sat, 04 March 2017
Hurricanes v Rebels 04h15 Wellington
Highlanders v Crusaders 06h45 Dunedin
Brumbies v Sharks 08h45 Canberra
Sunwolves v Kings 10h55 Singapore
Lions v Waratahs 13h05 Johannesburg
Glasgow Warriors v Dragons 15h00 Scotstoun Stadium
Worcester Warriors v Bristol 15h00 Sixways
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs 15h00 Welford Road
Gloucester v Harlequins 15h00 Kingsholm
Bath v Wasps 15h00 Recreation Ground
Stormers v Jaguares 15h15 Cape Town
RESULT SCORE
Sat, 25 February 2017
Kings v Jaguares 26 | 39
Scotland v Wales 29 | 13
Cheetahs v Lions 25 | 28
Waratahs v Force 19 | 13
Crusaders v Brumbies 17 | 13
Sunwolves v Hurricanes 17 | 83
Fri, 24 February 2017
Munster v Scarlets 21 | 30
Dragons v Leinster 22 | 54
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues 17 | 18
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers 18 | 27
Reds v Sharks 28 | 26
Highlanders v Chiefs 15 | 24
Thu, 23 February 2017
Rebels v Blues 18 | 56
Tue, 21 February 2017
CUT-Ixias v Shimlas 13 | 22
Mon, 20 February 2017
UJ v UP-Tuks 18 | 11
SIX NATIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
Scotland 3 2 0 1 9
England 2 2 0 0 8
Ireland 2 1 0 1 6
Wales 3 1 0 2 5
France 2 1 0 1 5
Italy 2 0 0 2 0