Rugby World Cup 2003
Wales through to last eight
October 25, 2003
Sonny Parker rounds the Italy defence to score
© Getty Images
Wales booked their place in the World Cup quarter-finals with a 27-15 triumph over Italy in Canberra. Tries from Mark Jones, Sonny Parker and flanker Dafydd Jones - plus 12 points from the boot of the increasingly impressive Iestyn Harris - sealed the win and guaranteed at least second place in Pool D.
Italy were spirited in attack, but Wales' defence held firm and limited the Azzurri to five penalties from Rima Wakarua. The most likely scenario now is that Wales face England in an enticing quarter-final showdown in Brisbane.
With few expecting Wales to emerge with anything from their final pool game against New Zealand next weekend, this was it - a showdown with Italy for a place in the last eight of the World Cup.
For Wales to miss out on the quarter-finals in a group which included the Azzurri, Canada and Tonga would be little short of a sporting disaster for a nation who only 16 years ago finished third at the inaugural World Cup.
The doom-mongers were predicting the worst, and even Wales coach Steve Hansen insisted during the week that the Italians were favourites, based on the Azzurri's victory in Rome during the RBS Nations earlier this year.
But his opposite number, John Kirwan, was having none of it, and thrust the tag back into the Welsh camp, citing his side's lack of preparation time and mounting injury toll. Italy beat Canada in a bruising encounter only last Tuesday and had to wait until Friday before captain Alessandro Troncon and centre Andrea Masi were cleared to play.
Marco Bortolami, Manuel Dallan and Mirco Bergamasco were all missing for the Italians, who had never reached the last eight. Wales were also made to battle for their last win, but had a week since scraping past Tonga to fine-tune their preparations and Hansen decided to make 10 changes.
In came a new front row, including Neath props Adam and Duncan Jones, for what was expected to be a fierce forwards battle, and a new half-back pairing. Ceri Sweeney replaced Stephen Jones at fly-half and Dwayne Peel go the nod at scrum-half ahead of Gareth Cooper.
It was Sweeney who got caught in position inside his own 22 after a magnificent kick and chase from full-back Gonzalo Canale. He had been busy in the opening minutes, fielding punts forward - but with six minutes gone he unleashed a kick into Welsh territory that refused to go out.
Canale, in only his sixth Test, chased on and bundled Sweeney into touch - and from the resultant line-out Italy came within inches of opening the scoring. Number eight Sergio Parisse and flanker Andrea de Rossi charged at the Welsh defence and under sever pressure their captain Colin Charvis conceded the penalty for offside.
Rima Wakarua slotted the points - but Wales immediately went down the other end and finished a sweeping move in style. Flanker Martyn Williams flicked on a pass from Sweeney, and Duncan Jones delayed his pass perfectly for winger Mark Jones to dive over.
Iestyn Harris slotted the afters, and Wales had the lead. But Kirwan had called on his men, who had not managed a decent training run, to draw on their courage - and Italy, after a bursting run through the midfield, almost crossed again.
This time Martin Castrogiovanni was stopped just shy of the line by a try-saving tackle from Mark Jones. Italy still dominated possession and territory as the game reached the quarter mark. But Wakarua struck the post with a penalty, and Parisse was denied by a forward pass from Nicola Nazzucato.
Wales then endured a difficult five minutes, losing both full-back Kevin Morgan and Duncan Jones to injury. Morgan limped out of the action, to be replaced by Rhys Williams after 22 minutes just before Harris extended Wales' advantage with a penalty from in front of the posts.
But Jones was then caught at the bottom of a ruck and injured both his knee and ankle and had to be carried from the field on a stretcher. Italy had been given the penalty, and Wakarua landed it from 35 metres. Offensively the Azzurri were retaining the ball cleanly and quickly, heaping pressure on the Welsh.
They put together 17 consecutive phases - and although the attack was static, their line congested and earned them hardly any territory, Adam Jones finally conceded the penalty for Wakarua to convert. But defensively, Italy were clinging on - and when Wakarua left the line in a vain search of an interception Sweeney broke forward into open space and set up Wales' second score.
Harris spun the ball out to Parker, and just minutes before the interval the New Zealand-born centre touched down - leaving Harris a simple conversion. As they needed to, the Italians drew first blood after the interval with a fourth penalty from Wakarua, conceded at the scrum for incorrect binding in the Welsh front row.
Both sides made changes in the pack with the battle up front predictably physical and fierce. Stephen Jones was also introduced for Sweeney, who had justified his surprise selection in the starting line-up. Hansen had indicated during the week he had selected a starting line-up with tactical substitutions in mind.
Jones was introduced after the Italians had again compiled a sapping multi-phase move which eventually saw the Welsh buckle under the pressure, concede a penalty for slowing the ball and Wakarua reduced the Azzurri deficit to five.
Harris then missed his first shot at goal, but as the cries of "Wales, Wales" rung around the Canberra Stadium, Italy were pinned down. Even a break from the impressive Canale could not relieve the pressure for long and Dafydd Jones stole out from a rolling maul to dive over for Wales' third try.
Mark Jones then spurned the chance of a fourth try, which would have sealed the bonus point, when he spilled the ball forward with the line beckoning. Harris missed two penalties, but Italy were flagging and the game was up.
Dennis Dallan inspired the Azzurri's most incisive attack down the left with two minutes to play - but again Wales held firm. With Stephen Jones now pulling the strings, the Welsh were content to play a sensible, risk-free game and seal the win.
Italy: 15 Pen: Wakarua (5)
Wales: 27 Tries: M. Jones, Parker, D. Jones Con: Harris (3) Pen: Harris (2)
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra