By Matt Lloyd at Canberra Stadium
Wales qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals and a probable showdown with England by completing a revenge mission against Italy in Camberra. The defeat in Rome in February was the start of a disappointing season for Steve Hansen's men but they put that disappointment behind them when it mattered by securing a handsome victory with perhaps their best performance during Hansen's rein.
Among those with the most to prove was Wales' back-row of Colin Charvis, Martyn Williams and Dafydd Jones who were totally outgunned in Rome. They responded in Canberra with a display that stopped Italy's highly rated trio in their tracks and created the platform for the Welsh backs to shine.
After slipping behind to an early Rima Wakarua penalty, Wales hit back in the best possible way through Mark Jones' well crafted try. Flanker Jones and then Charvis took up the charge after Wales had picked the Italians' pocket at the re-start. Ceri Sweeney spun the ball quickly wide and Williams and Duncan Jones showed quick hands to send wing Jones over in the corner after just eight minutes.
However Wales did not have the opening exchanges all their own way and try-scorer Jones was soon called into action at the other end of the field to keep Italy out as Nicola Mazzucato went close. Wales full-back Kevin Morgan was injured in the tackle and was forced off after only 22 minutes.
Moments later and Wales were hit by a second injury problem when prop Duncan Jones was stretchered off with a suspected fractured fibula after his right leg twisted awkwardly in a collision with opposite number Martin Castrogiovanni. Meanwhile Rima Wakarua converted two attempts at goal, either side of a Harris penalty, twice bringing Italy back to within four points.
While Italy's outside-half kept his cool in front of goal, it was a moment of madness that allowed Wales to score a crucial try less than two minutes before the break. Wakarua went for an interception only to leave Sweeney with acres of space to attack before the ball was shipped wide through Williams and then Harris to the on-rushing Sonny Parker who sailed over untouched for his second try of the tournament.
It was a huge psychological blow by Wales who went into the break 11 points ahead despite having less possession or territory. Italy hauled themselves back through two more Wakarua penalties but Welsh confidence was sky-high both with and without the ball.
They soaked up all that Italy had left could throw at them and turned the screw up front as the game wore on and would have put Italy to the sword on the scoreboard had Harris not uncharacteristically missed three penalties. However for once Wales could get by without his points given the pressure they were exerting at the set pieces that brought about the killer try just after the hour mark.
Parisse showed in inexperience by getting caught on the blind side from a scrum close to the Italian line and from the ensuing lineout, flanker Jones collected and was rumbled over by the rest of the Welsh pack. It was an impressive finale to an impressive display that will have given both Hansen and his squad the confident boost they needed before facing the mighty All Blacks in Sydney next Sunday.
Wales: K Morgan (R Williams, 22); M Jones, S Parker (D Peel, 79), I Harris, G Thomas; C Sweeney (S Jones, 49), D Peel (G Cooper, 55); D Jones (G Jenkins, 24), R McBryde, A Jones, B Cockbain (J Thomas, 70), G Llewellyn (R Sidoli, 49), D Jones, C Charvis (capt), M Williams.
Try - M Jones, S Parker, D Jones. Con - I Harris (3). Pen - I Harris (2).
Italy: G Canale (F Mazzariol, 70); N Mazzucato, C Stoica, A Masi, D Dallan; R Wakarua, A Troncon (capt); A Lo Cicero (S Perugini, 67), F Ongaro (C Festuccia, 46), M Castrogiovanni, C Checchinato (M Phillips, 49), S Dellape (C Bezzi, 68), A De Rossi (M Bergamasco, 56), S Parisse, A Persico (M Bergamasco, 44-50, S Palmer, 63).
Pen - R Wakarua (5).
Referee: A Cole (Aus)