An unfamiliar-looking Wales outfit made light work of struggling Italy despite having two players sin-binned at one stage on Sunday at the Principality stadium.
There were Many changes in personnel, but the figures on the scoreboard shocked nobody as Wales claimed their second win of the Six Nations.
Italy were second-best even though Wales received two yellow cards and were devoid of possession for long periods of the 80 minutes.
Warren Gatland’s men were entirely comfortable, bar an unusually poor performance from Liam Williams as some of the newer faces shone.
The men in red started with intent in the Welsh and it took just four minutes for Parkes to find the tryline as he scored his third try for his country as he evaded some weak Italian tackles to give Wales the lift they needed to push on.
Gareth Anscombe, starting as outside-half for the first time in a competitive international, added the extras.
Two minutes later with the Italians on the verge fo breaching the Welsh 22, centre starlet Owen Watkin intercepted a loose Italian pass and rampaged 70 metres forward.
With Azzurri captain Sergio Parisse closing in, he jinked to the right to dodge the tackle and showed the presence of mind to shift the ball outside to the onrushing George North.
North touched down for his first try of the Championship as Wales continued to dominate against the vulnerable Italians, who looked deprived of confidence.
Anscombe slotted over the extras to make it 14-0 and it looked like plain sailing for the Welsh. hey did not have it all their own way though – Italy pulled a score back through lively fullback Matteo Minozzi after 10 minutes.
The youngster took advantage of a poor tackle from Liam Williams to squeeze over in the left corner.
Wales replied with another flowing attacking move which looked to have resulted in a Gareth Davies try – but it was correctly ruled out after the scrum-half was judged to have strayed in front of Steff Evans, who had punted ahead.
Anscombe consoled Welsh fans with a penalty kick before the most controversial incident of the match just before half-time.
With an advantage called and Wales camped on the Italian five-metre line, Anscombe lofted a high kick into the right corner.
Steff Evans lost out to Minozzi, who was duly clattered in a tackle in the dead ball area by Liam Williams. flare-up ensued with numerous players from each side grappling at each other’s shirts.
French referee Jerome Garces passed the incident over the TMO, and the officiating team reached the conclusion that the Welsh full-back was to be given a yellow card for the tackle that saw his shoulder impact with Minozzi’s head.
It was needless from Williams, especially given the tactical situation of a Wales advantage, and it could yet see him cited.
He cut a dejected figure on the touchline and was replaced by Leigh Halfpenny when his period in the sin bin ended in the second-half.
Being a man down did nothing to dampen the Welsh attacking spirit, however, and they scored a simple try through Cory Hill following a five-metre scrum three minutes into the second-half.
It got a little nervy for Wales soon after when Gareth Davies was yellow carded for a cynical deliberate knock-on.
It meant that Gatland’s side were momentarily reduced to 13-men, but the visitors failed to take advantage.
After a relative lull, Wales found themselves once again camped on the Azzurri try line in the final quarter of the game.
Man of the moment Parkes thought he had bagged his second try but his effort near the posts was ruled out by the TMO for no clear grounding, much to the bewildered of the home Welsh support.
By this time Wales had their tails up and the resulting scrum provided a good platform for a neat move.
Replacement outside-half Rhys Patchell showed strength to offload to the familiar sight of winger North, who duly claimed his second try of the match – his 32nd for his country in all.
As the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, there was time for another Wales score with Justin Tipuric crossing in the left corner following a looping pass from Parkes.
Halfpenny showed real confidence to add the extra two points from a strenuous angle as he continues to improve game-by-game during this year’s six nations.
Surprisingly, it was Italy who would have the last say in the game when they snuck a consolation through wing Mattia Bellini in the 76th minute.
Wales were guilty this time of ceding possession in the breakdown in their own 22, but it wasn’t enough in what was a straight-forward victory for Wales, which will put them in good stead going into their final game against France at the Principality stadium.
This was a comfortable victory made more impressive by the volume of changes from the previous match against Ireland.
Debate will roar on across the land over who deserves the outside-half slot – Dan Biggar may just sneak it against the physical French.
The back row also needs consideration. Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler have done little wrong so far this campaign but James Davies put in a good defensive shift here.
You would expect the likes of North and stand-in captain Taulupe Faletau to keep their places, but there are question marks over Liam Williams.
We could see a reinvigorated Halfpenny slot in at fullback with Steff Evans and North either side of him – Williams may have to be content with a bench spot at best.
The French themselves are looking in good nick following a stunning victory over England – they may prove tougher opponents than first anticipated at the start of this year’s Six Nations, in-spite of the controversy which has put somewhat of a dark shadow over French rugby following an incident after their lost to scotland in Edinburgh.
(Featured image: Jaggery)