Wales got the defence of the Six Nations off to a comprehensive start as five tries ensured a comfortable win over Italy in Wayne Pivac’s first competitive game in charge.
The former Scarlets coach had stuck with largely the same faces that had served Warren Gatland so well, with only Johnny McNicholl getting a debut in the starting XV. Taulupe Faletau was available at international level for the first time in two years to provide a boost in the back row.
Pivac had promised evolution rather than revolution when it came to focusing on the attacking game, with an early indicator of what the team were trying to achieve as Dan Biggar ran back a kick return to set up an attack that ended with Italy infringing and the fly-half kicking the penalty.
The Northampton man would go on to extend the lead after Tommaso Allan failed to toll away after making a tackle and Leigh Halfpenny was tripped when chasing a chip kick, making the score 9-0 after 15 minutes.
With that base behind them Wales were then able to push forward for the first try of the game and it came in some style from first phase ball as Biggar pulled a pass back for Nick Tompkins who brought Leigh Halfpenny in from full-back and on to Josh Adams at full tile to finish in the corner.
Then with the half-hour mark approaching the second try came along, this time thanks to a wonderful piece of invention from Biggar as Wales camped on the Italy line he took the ball at first receiver on the blindside, flicking the ball through his legs for Adams to dive over.
The fly-half converted twice and there was almost a third try in the half as Tomos Williams charged down Allan but he couldn’t collect the loose ball.
Italy attempted to get themselves on the scoreboard as the clock ticked towards the end of the 40, working their way down to our five metre line, but some strong Wales maul defence kept them at bay and preserved the 21-0 lead at the break.
With such a commanding margin at the start of the second half there was a feeling that the home side would push on for the bonus point very quickly, but full credit to the Azzurri they came out battling in the third quarter of the game and made life very difficult.
It would be a dominant scrum that gave Italy much of their possession and territory as Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis both struggled against their opposition props, but Wales’ defence was as solid as ever, not allowing the away side any real sniff at a try scoring opportunity despite their time with ball-in-hand.
Eventually the home side got back to the scoring ways, but it took a 20-minute wait to the hour mark and some smart handling from the forwards to make it happen.
Dillon Lewis and Rob Evans teamed up to release Cory Hill to gallop down the centre of the field before being pulled down just outside the Italy 22, but a quick recycled allowed Nick Tompkins to make another break and beat two defenders for a debut try.
Two minutes later it seemed like the floodgates had opened and the bonus point was secured when Leigh Halfpenny and Tompkins sent George North over but a knock-on in the build up saw the five points chalked off.
Substitutions hampered the efforts of either side to generate some momentum but Wales continued to look the most dangerous side as time wore on and with five minutes to go the maximum competition points were finally in the bag.
A penalty allowed the hosts to kick to the corner and after six phases of hammering at the door, North got himself legitimately on the scoreboard with the help of Alun Wyn Jones dragging him over the line.
Two more conversions, one each from Biggar and Halfpenny, made the score 35-0 as the clock turned red, but Wales weren’t quite done with the scoring yet despite having the chance to put the ball into the stand.
North broke the Italian line again to return to their 22, Leon Brown truck the ball up to the try line and then Josh Adams appeared off his left wing on the right hand side of the pitch, running a powerful line to touch down for his hat-trick.
Halfpenny added two more points for a 42-0 final score and Wales kicked off the Six Nations with five tries, maximum points and a clean sheet, with Wayne Pivac no doubt pleased with how his first competitive game in charge had gone.
The challenges will get tougher next week though as he takes his Welsh side to Dublin for a first head-to-head with Andy Farrell, knowing that the performance will have to go up a level again.