Wales showed grit and determination to win an encounter that looked beyond them for large parts of the game to claim seventh spot in the World Rugby U20 Championship with a 25-24 victory against Italy
Jason Strange’s side looked like they were heading for a humiliating defeat when 24-15 down but replacement centre Connor Edwards hauled his side back into the game with a block busting run with his first touch of the championship which ultimately led to Phil Jones scoring out wide. Arwel Robson’s conversion brought Wales to within two points with 13 minutes remaining.
The game swung in Wales’ favour five minutes from time when Italy flanker Jacopo Bianchi saw red for a high shot on Robson. Jones stepped up to take the penalty and he showed nerves of steel to give Wales the lead – an advantage they managed to keep until the final whistle to secure their second scalp of the campaign.
Italy opened the scoring in the seventh minute when fly half Antonio Rizzi eased over a penalty. He then made Owen Lane pay for a tackle that didn’t involve any arms and he landed a penalty from inside his own half with ease to double his tally.
Robson halved the deficit three minutes later when centre Marco Zanon was yellow carded for pulling the fly half back from a quick tap.
Robson was to the fore in the 29th minute when he danced his way through a posse of Italian defenders on the halfway mark. Full back Phil Jones linked up well and sent long striding second row Callum Bradbury to the try-line unopposed. Robson’s conversion put Wales 10-6 ahead and with their noses in front for the first time of the match.
Rizzi clawed back three more points with his third penalty of the afternoon before Wales scored the try of the tournament.
Wales ripped the ball within centimetres of their own line, Robson spotted a gap and put winger Jared Rosser free. He then passed to Lane who flicked the ball inside to Reuben Morgan-Williams who made his way into Italy’s half before Rosser took the ball again. The ball was quickly recycled and Jones chipped over the flat defence and winger Ryan Conbeer collected a perfect bounce and raced over to put Wales 15-9 ahead at the break.
Italy stunned Wales with a try within two minutes of the re-start. Robson had a clearance kick charged down and winger Giovanni D’Onofrio picked up the pieces and dived over. Rizzi’s conversion put Italy back in front, 16-15.
Rizzi’s fourth penalty edged Italy further ahead as Wales became rattled. When Wales were down to 14 men as prop Tom Mably was receiving treatment, Italy made the extra man count as Dario Schiabel forced his way over as the game swung back in Italy’s favour.
Wales got back into the match when replacement Edwards burst through a weak defence and quick hands amongst the backs put Jones over. Robson’s conversion brought the scores to 22-24 and Wales scented blood.
Bianchi's banishment gifted Wales a shot at goal and Jones slotted it to edge Wales home as Strange's side leave a tournament knowing if they had taken their chances when on offer in previous games, a top four position would have been a distinct possibility.
Wales head coach Jason Strange was delighted to finish the tournament with a victory and praised the guts and determination of his young side who fought back from the brink of defeat.
“I’m pleased for the players to be able to finish the tournament with a win,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t a vintage performance by any means but it was important they got a result today. I thought they showed a lot of composure and character in the last 15 minutes.
“The replacements who came on really made an impact for us – we showed glimpses of what we can do today and it’s just a matter of trying to sustain that intensity for longer periods of time.”
Scorers: Wales: Tries - Callum Bradbury, Ryan Conbeer, Phil Jones; Cons - Arwel Robson (2); Pens - Robson, Phil Jones
Italy: Tries - Giovanni D'Onofrio, Dario Schiabel; Cons - Antinio Rizzi; Pens - Rizzi (4)