Six Nations champions Wales edge past brave Italy
Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland (right) fends off Italy's full-back Luke McLean during the Six Nations rugby union match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, on February 1, 2014. Wales beat Italy 23-15. - by Ben Stansall
The build-up to this fixture had been overshadowed by the bitter row within Welsh rugby over a 'player exodus' to foreign clubs and the future of the country's four regional teams.
But politics were put to one side as Wales saw off a determined Azzurri side, whose performance belied a poor record that now stands at 16 matches without an away win in the Six Nations.
Wales led 17-3 at half-time after converted tries from wing Alex Cuthbert and centre Scott Williams were separated by a Leigh Halfpenny penalty.
But they were caught cold soon after the break by the first of Italy centre Michele Campagnaro's two tries and didn't manage another point until Halfpenny's 66th minute penalty.
But just when it seemed they'd put the match beyond Italy's reach, man-of-the-match Campagnaro intercepted Halfpenny's pass and ran in for a try under the posts which fly-half Tommaso Allan converted.
Now, with 11 minutes left, Wales led by just five points before another Halfpenny penalty put them two scores in front at 23-15.
"We have to tighten up those mistakes in our game. If we don't then we'll lose against Ireland next week," Wales centre Jamie Roberts told the BBC.
Wales coach Warren Gatland admitted: "We made it tough for ourselves.
"Italy were dogged and competed all day."
Italy captain Sergio Parisse was proud of the way his injury-hit side, featuring several novice backs, had pushed Wales so close.
"As a captain I am very proud of what the youngsters achieved," he said. "They were facing some of the most talented backs on the international stage but they showed they can compete at this level."
Wales, whose poor first half display in last season's opening defeat by Ireland ultimately cost them a Grand Slam, took just three minutes to score the game's first try.
Debutant Italy wing Angelo Esposito made a mess of trying to gather Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland's grubber-kick, allowing Cuthbert to touch down in the right corner.
British and Irish Lions full-back Halfpenny made a difficult touchline conversion look easy and Wales were 7-0 in front as the cheers echoed off the closed Millennium Stadium roof.
However, Italy were on the board when Allan kicked a simple penalty in front of the posts.
It wasn't until the 28th minute that Wales, tested up front by an Italy side boasting the most experienced pack in Test history with nearly 600 caps between them, scored again when Halfpenny landed a penalty following a line-out infringement by Mauro Bergamasco.
Italy came close to a try when Parisse crossed after winning an aerial challenge with Wales wing George North. However, the star No 8 had knocked on and his 'try' was disallowed.
Parisse's error was compounded when Wales scored their second try three minutes before half-time.
Fit again British and Irish Lions star Roberts counter-attacked in typically blistering fashion and found midfield partner Williams for a converted try that gave Wales a 14-point interval advantage.
But two minutes into the second half, Italy were back in the match.
Leonardo Sarto kicked ahead before Campagnaro fly-hacked on and outpaced the Welsh cover in the race for the touch-down, the try standing after a television review regarding a possible forward pass earlier in the move.
Allan pulled the conversion wide but Halfpenny then missed a penalty.
Then, from a similar position to his failed conversion, Allan hit the left post with a penalty effort.
Wales, though, had still to 'kill' the game heading into the final quarter, with the biggest cheer in the closing stages coming when regular captain Sam Warburton, on the bench following a shoulder injury, replaced Dan Lydiate.