Wales held by belligerent Azzuri
By Lee Walker. Last Updated: 11/03/06 2:58pm
Italy avoided defeat for the first time in 20 Six Nations away matches as they earned an 18-18 draw with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The home side paid the price for not making the most of their first-half domination and couldn't force a winning score in a scrappy final 20 minutes.
The hosts took the lead after just three minutes when Stephen Jones split the posts after Salvatore Perugini was penalised for failing to bind at the scrum and it was 8-0 inside ten minutes.
Hal Luscombe stepped inside to find Shane Williams who fed the unmarked Mark Jones for a 10-yard dash to the whitewash.
But the Italians reduced the deficit to three with their first real opportunity when the ball was sprayed wide to Enzio Galon, who was given the try by the video umpire despite appearing to ground the ball outside of the in-goal area.
However Stephen Jones responded by taking a quick tap to role an Italian tackle before reaching over for Wales' second try and his conversion gave the hosts a 15-5 advantage.
But Ramiro Pez booted a penalty before a converted Pablo Canavosio try levelled matters on the brink of half-time.
The Calvisano winger intercepted a Matthew Watkins pass inside his own half and raced away from the Welsh defence for a score against the run-of-play.
Leicester fly-half Pez gave Pierre Berbizier's side their first lead five minutes into the second period but the penalty sandwiched two misses and that proved costly.
Jones levelled the scores again at 18-18 with a long-range penalty on 58 and Wales dominated in terms of possession and territory over the final quarter as the Azzuri faded.
In the frenetic closing stages, Stephen Jones elected to kick for touch rather than take on a 55m three-pointer and Wales powered to within 20 yards of the line before Italy cleared.
The Wales number 10 continued to prompt the attack but his diagonal chip was well read by Christian Stoica who ran the ball into touch midway inside his own half and after gaining possession at the lineout, Italy held firm for a point.