CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales rose to second in the Six Nations after a mixture of new faces and returning veterans combined to give the hosts a convincing 38-14 victory over Italy on Sunday.
Warren Gatland was rewarded for his decision to freshen up a Welsh side that had experienced successive narrow defeats to England and Ireland.
Despite 10 changes to the starting lineup, a cohesive Wales had two tries in the opening six minutes to take control against Italy, which has now lost 16 consecutive Six Nations matches.
George North scored two tries, while Hadleigh Parkes, Cory Hill and Justin Tipuric also went over at the Principality Stadium. Matteo Minozzi and Mattia Bellini got Italy's two tries.
A yellow card for Wales either side of halftime perhaps prevented an even greater margin of victory, but Gatland now has tough choices to make ahead of next week's tournament finale against France, which could decide second place.
"It's job done," Gatland said. "It's what we wanted. To make that many changes and win comfortably was pleasing. Some elements were frustrating and we'll work on that. But we achieved what we wanted to do and we have our destiny in our own hands next week."
Ireland beat Scotland 28-8 and was crowned champion on Saturday after title rival England was beaten by France, 22-16.
Wales made a flying start as Parkes took advantage of some dismal Italian tackling to touch down under the posts after just four minutes.
A second try came just two minutes later as center Owen Watkin, making his first Six Nations start, intercepted a pass in the midfield before finding returning wing North outside of him. Gareth Anscombe, in a new starting position at fly half, took care of both conversions to give the Welsh a 14-0 lead.
Italy refused to be disheartened and was back in the game in the 10th minute when Minozzi produced a moment of individual brilliance. The full back received the ball on the wing before evading three Welsh defenders with some silky footwork to go over in the corner.
Tommaso Allan converted a tough kick to bring Italy within seven points, but failed to further dent the Welsh lead when he missed a straight forward penalty opportunity in the 30th.
Anscombe made no such mistake minutes later as he made it 17-7, but halftime was made less comfortable for the home team when Liam Williams was shown a yellow card just before the break for a high tackle on Minnozi.
"The yellow card was fair. We had no problems with a yellow card," said Gatland. "I was disappointed. Whether he had to make the tackle, did he need to go that high?"
However, Wales quickly made light of the man-disadvantage as it extended the lead just three minutes into the second half.
Second row Hill went over from close range to get his first international try, before Anscombe maintained his perfect kicking display to make it 24-7.
Wales was momentarily reduced to 13 men as Gareth Davies joined Williams in the sin bin after an intentional knock-on, but defended stoutly to maintain its lead and took advantage once it was back to full strength.
North grabbed his second try in the 66th after replacement Rhys Patchell's smart offload and the young fly half was involved once more as Tipuric went over in the corner shortly after. With Anscombe having gone off, Leigh Halfpenny stepped in to convert on both occasions, stretching the lead 31 points.
Italy did have the final say, as a turnover led to winger Bellini finishing off a slick move.