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Wales v Italy winners and losers – major questions asked of Wayne Pivac’s future as Welsh rugby returns to the dark old dayss

A Welsh captain once revealed he’d lock himself in his house with curtains drawn until the Wednesday after a bad test defeat. The goldfish bowl and all that.

It’s not known if any of the class of ’22 will consider such a course after Saturday’s calamitous 22-21 setback against Italy. Wales were dreadful and off the pace in close on every area as they crashed to defeat against a side who hadn’t previously won a Six Nations’ game since 2015.

Questions will now be asked about where Wayne Pivac’s side go from here, with the display far and away the worst of the New Zealander’s reign as head coach so far.

READ MORE: Biggar’s warning to Wales team-mates over future

Mark Orders assesses the winners and losers from Saturday’s match in Cardiff.

winners

Italy

Let’s start with a statement of the obvious: Italy haven’t chased away the problems of Italian rugby in the space of 80 minutes. Even so, their victory over Wales could not have been more timely. They had gone 36 Six Nations matches without winning.

Rather than watch the Azzurri play out all those defeats, anyone wanting to spend his or her time in a different way could have run five four-hour marathons, watched every moment of Gone with the Wind, worked a 12-shift, taken in a football match and still had time to read Joyce’ Ulysses at an average speed of 300 words a minute.

Italy have waited that long for a success in the competition. There were calls for them to be kicked out or at least forced to justify their place via a playoff with the top side in European rugby’s tier two.

But maybe the pressure will ease a touch after beating Wales for the first time in Cardiff. While not everyone has been looking, there have been other signs of improvement in Italian rugby. Benetton won the Rainbow Cup last year and Italy U20s defeated England last month and accounted for Wales U20s two years earlier. Nothing earth shattering, but progress the same.

The challenge for the national team is to bank more than the odd success when the moon turns blue. But their win over Wales shows the future isn’t as bleak for them as many have been saying.

They need to back it up next season — of course they do — but for now they can savor their success. It had been quite a wait between drinks.

Ange Capuozzo

The quickest way to motor around some of Italy’s busier streets is via a Vespa with its ability to weave in and out of heavy traffic. And so to the Principality Stadium on Saturday as little Ange Capuozzo zipped through the Welsh defense late on, like a human equivalent of the luxury scooter that’s so popular on the streets of Rome.

What a run it was from Capuozzo to set up the match-winning try — dashing across field before bursting through a gap and slaloming past Kieran Hardy. He still had to send out a pass to the supporting Edoardo Padovani, and he did so with consummate skill, allowing the right wing to coast in for the score.

Wales could not say the warning signs were not there. A week earlier Capuozzo had scored two devastating tries himself against Scotland as Italy played some attractive rugby in defeat.

Yet Wales kept offering him possession, with the full-back running the ball 12 times, passing 11 times and offloading. Sooner or later it was inevitable he would make them pay, and while he left it to the end, make them pay he did.

He is so diminutive in stature it appeared at times that the wind blowing through the Principality Stadium might take him clean off his feet. But good things tend to come in small packages. It’s still early days, but to say he looks the part is to deal in major understatement.

Josh Adams

Most people know how to win; not everyone knows how to lose. Credit Josh Adams, then.

Named as man of the match by Jonathan Davies in the closing stages, he went on to endure a rocky ending as he was penalized for dissent and missed a tackle on Ange Capuozzo as the little full-back set off on his magic-carpet ride upfield that secured the Azzurri a deserved victory.

Adams had earlier prevented an Italy try and scored one but he’s not in this section for those admirable deeds. He’s here because of his stunning sportsmanship in handing Capuozzo the man-of-the-match medal the Welsh player had just been presented with.

It was the most classy moment of the day, rightly applauded by many. In defeat, the wing emerged as a winner.

losers

Welsh rugby

It was a shocking day for Wayne Pivac, one that brought the detractors out again. Many of them seemed to have been quietened by an improvement after the horror show against Ireland on the opening weekend of the Six Nations — let’s be honest, it would be hard not to improve on that effort, so off the pace were Wales in Dublin.

But this wasn’t so much a step back from the game effort against France the previous weekend as a Tardis ride to the bleak days to 2003 and 2007, when Wales plumbed greater depths than Jacques Cousteau, losing to Italy in each of those Six Nations ‘ editions.

This time they were at home and looking to nail down a third-place finish in this year’s championship. It would have been a case of grand larceny had they made off with such a placing.

They were shocking against a team who had turned losing into an art form. Wales should have had enough about them to have added to the Italians’ misery.

Instead, it was Pivac’s side who were left with the heads in their hands. It goes without saying the coach needs to look at himself.

Wales hadn’t been playing especially well and confidence was fragile. Making so many changes for a campaign-defining game was risky, even against a team who many had assumed had forgotten how to win.

The way to deal with Italy is to set in place a forward platform, score a few points early on to discourage them, be clinical and increase the tempo while punishing the opposition’s errors. But Wales attempted to run at Italy before they had put in the spadework up front, they were suspects in defence, indisciplined and blew a handful of golden opportunities.

Some will wonder if Pivac got his selection right. Should Tomas Francis have been involved to turn the screw on Italy in the scrums? Was it a good idea to bench Nick Tompkins instead of starting him and omit Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert and Gareth Anscombe from the matchday squad?

Wales are supposed to have back-row riches, yet their breakaway unit still didn’t look completely balanced. Would it have benefited them to have used Josh Navidi at six, with Jac Morgan at openside alongside Taulupe Faletau at No. 8th? And there are plenty who’ll maintain Will Rowlands was unlucky to be left out as a starter, though, in fairness to Pivac, he was bringing in the Lions captain ahead of him — hardly a wildly risky call.

Wales are at a stage where they need consistency in selection, though. There will be consequences for certain individuals, some of whom might well have played their way out of Wales’ plans for the World Cup.

That said, are there many more better players out there to replace them?

There will be calls for Pivac to go, and loud ones at that, although history tells us ripping it up and starting in the run-up to a World Cup rarely works. Wales made a habit of it in the first half of the 1990s and the upheaval got them nowhere, with failure heaped on failure.

The reality is Welsh rugby is in a mess, from the national team down. The under-funded regions have reached the point where 40-point or even 50-point thrashings no longer surprise, Wales U20s have fallen a long way behind Ireland, France and England and reasoned voices say there needs to be a new competition between the regional game and the Welsh Premiership, to act as a stepping stone.

Now Wales have lost to Italy. Do the Welsh Rugby Union have a handle on this?

Where is the leadership to point the way to better times? Where is the vision and bold thinking to take the game forward?

Saturday was a lamentable effort for which pretty much all involved carry blame, from the highest echelons of the WRU through to the coaches and the players.

It is right that questions should be asked of Pivac and his coaches because a home defeat against Italy is never acceptable and questionable calls were made. But questions should also be asked of those above him. A small rugby country like Wales needs to be doing pretty much everything right for success to be delivered.

Right now that isn’t happening, with the Six Nations titles in 2019 and 2021 masking the scale of the problems. Some will heap all the blame on Pivac. Others will feel Welsh rugby’s problems go deeper than one man.

Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones

Two more deserving rugby players it would be hard to imagine. And no way can they fairly be called losers.

But that Italy rained on their parade is not in doubt. It was Jones’ 150th cap and Biggar’s 100th. The sun was shining and on paper the opposition were not expected to pose too many problems.

But Italy didn’t read the script. They were desperate to end their long run of Six Nations’ failure, won collisions and stormed into breakdowns, with their back-three never less than dangerous and their hooker outstanding.

It is too simplistic to suggest Wales were flat amid the milestone celebrations. But Italy undoubtedly looked hungry and ultimately deserved their success.

It was still hard not to feel sorry for Jones and Biggar, though. Some things are just not meant to be.

How to end a campaign. A much deeper low it would be hard to imagine.

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