Italy have arrived. No longer propping up the Six Nations table, the Azzurri finish a best ever season in third place after an impressive 22-5 win over Wales in Padua.
Rarely has any team developed and improved over such a short time as the 2015 Italians. The team that beat France and Wales back-to-back in the past seven days seems a different team to the one that defended well but ran out of steam after 60 minutes at the beginning of February. Full of confidence from defeating France last weekend, and in front of what was probably their largest home crowd ever, the Azzurri scored three tries through Flavia Severin, Sara Barattin and replacement Paola Zangirolami (while Veronica Schiavon added seven points from the kicking tee) to see off a Welsh team that many had seen as favourites before the game.
For Wales, it was a disappointing end to a competition that began with so much promise and back-to-back wins, but found their young team wanting in the later games. That said they probably had most of the posession, but the Italian defence has been the foundation of their success and after holding France at bay were equally successful in keeping out the Welsh - although they did score an early try through Sioned Harries.
However, it was Italy who had struck first. Starting the game with all the determination that might be expected from a home World Cup qualifier (which this also was) Italy took the lead just five minutes in after some quick-thinking by Barattin. The Italians were awarded a penalty after Wales infringed at the scrum and scrum-half Barattin took it quickly, laying the ball off Silvia Gaudino who fed Flavia Severin to go over for the try. Veronica Schiavon converted to give the Italians a seven-point lead after as many minutes.
But Harriespulled Wales back into it after they piled on the pressure. After failing to find a breakthrough on the left Adi Taviner passed the ball out right for Sioned Harries who broke through the Italian defence to go over. Wales missed the conversion and Schiavon extended Italy's lead with a penalty to put 10-5 up at the interval.
Wales dominated possession and territory in the second half but the Italians are not (player for player) the most experienced team in the championship for nothing. Having an all-but unchanged team for two years helps keep the error (and penalty) count to a bare minimum. Waves of red hammered at a wall of blue, but it failed to break - and in all honesty never looked like it would.
When the Italians broke out Barattin turned from provider to scorer for the hosts' second try of the day, diving over for a converted score, after being fed by Beatrice Rigoni, to stretch the lead out to 17-5.
And then we had the finale (watch it in the video above). In an invigorating final five minutes Italy showed that they are no longer a 60-minute team and are learning to attack as well as they defend. Sure of their third win they started to throw the ball around and eventually replacement back Zangirolami added a third try after superb work by Manuela Furlan in the build-up, a fitting end to a season that should be a turning point in the history of Italian women's rugby.
Scores: 6’ try. Severin conv. Schiavon (7-0); 10’ try. S. Harries (7-5); 21’ penalty. Schiavon (10-5); Second half. 21’ try. Barattin conv. Schiavon Ve. (17-5); 40’ try. Zangirolami (22-5)
Italy: 15. Manuela Furlan;14. Maria Magatti;13. Michela Sillari;12. Beatrice Rigoni;11. Sofia Stefan;10. Veronica Schiavon;9. Sara Barattin;1. Elisa Cucchiella;2. Melissa Bettoni;3. Lucia Gai;4. Flavia Severin;5. Alice Trevisan;6. Michela Este;7. Elisa Giordano;8. Silvia Gaudino.
Replacements: 16. Irene Campanini;17. Awa Coulibaly;18. Ilaria Arrighetti;19. Alessia Pantarotto;20. Valentina Ruzza;21. Maria Grazia Cioffi;22. Paola Zangirolami;23. Maria Diletta Veronese