WALES will go into Saturday’s Six Nations finale against France with second place within their grasp after getting the job done with ease against Italy in Cardiff.

Without needing to be that sharp, Warren Gatland’s men earned their second successive bonus-point win on home soil thanks to very early scores by centre Hadleigh Parkes and wing George North, Dragons captain Cory Hill’s first Test try and the clincher from North with 14 minutes to go.

Another followed from flanker Justin Tipuric on an afternoon when Italy mixed flashes of inspiration with the maddening.

It never felt like anything other than a comfortable Welsh win and, in a subdued atmosphere courtesy of a Sunday fixture against the Azzurri, it was a pretty professional effort that saw Wales leapfrog Scotland, Les Bleus and England.

Ireland’s title was secured on Saturday and their bid for a Grand Slam at Twickenham is the main event in round five.

Wales-France is the final year of this year’s tournament and the hosts will fancy their chances of finishing as runners-up, a pretty good return after coming up just short in London and Dublin.

To achieve that finish, Gatland is likely to ring the changes once more after bringing in 10 new faces for the Italian clash.

Those that came in did well but the big guns – Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny – should be back while in-form flankers Aaron Shingler and Josh Navidi have earned their jerseys this tournament ahead of more prestigious rivals.

But the Italy game was about experimentation and seeing if the likes of Gareth Anscombe at 10 and James Davies in the back row could make the step up for Test rugby.

The same went for Dragons hooker Elliot Dee, who finally got to wear 2 on his back on the international stage after cameos against Georgia, South Africa, Scotland, England and Ireland.

The task for the Dragon was to repeat the energy and snap that he had produced off the bench as back-up for Ken Owens from the off.

The front rower from Newbridge, who turned 24 on the day of the team announcement last Wednesday, managed that with a lively display that should cement him as the Lion’s deputy.

But the stars of the show were one current Dragons teammate in Hill, who keeps growing in Test rugby, one old one in Faletau, who returned with a huge display as captain, plus Scarlets centre Parkes, who classily does the right things at the right time.

Gatland has increased his player pool but isn’t faced with too many selection headaches for Les Bleus despite the new boys doing well.

The biggest call is, as ever, at 10. Will it be Anscombe or Dan Biggar? Maybe even Rhys Patchell? Other than that, the head coach doesn’t have too much to mull over for France.

Wales had their first try in the fourth minute when they reaped the rewards of going to the corner rather than the posts after a James Davies breakdown penalty.

The drive was stopped but the pressure eventually saw Parkes spin out of opposite number Tommaso Castello’s tackle with the Italian out cold after getting his head on the wrong side.

Anscombe converted and swiftly added another when centre Owen Watkin intercepted and calmly gave North a run-in.

At 14-0 any thoughts of a routine afternoon were ended courtesy of a superb score by full-back Matteo Minozzi, albeit one that will have enraged Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards with the Zebre speedster doing Liam Williams with quick feet and brushing through Gareth Davies’ tackle.

The hosts were close to a delightful score approaching 20 minutes when quick lineout ball was spread left for Steff Evans to chip ahead with Scarlets teammate Gareth Davies the beneficiary of a nice bounce, alas the scrum-half had been too keen and the TMO spied that he was a yard ahead of his winger.

To Italy’s credit, they responded well to their disastrous start and played with tenacity and enterprise.

However, they botched a couple of chances inside the Welsh 22 and Allan pulled an attempted three-pointer badly after 31 minutes.

Gatland’s men were being frustrated by their own sloppiness and the frequency that the Italian medics were coming onto the field; the injuries were genuine but it disrupted the flow.

Wales needed to use scoreboard pressure on their visitors and did so through the boot of Anscombe for 17-7 after an offside with 37 on the clock.

That’s how it stayed at half-time, much to the frustration of the hosts.

They were pressing for a third try in the 40th minute and kicked a penalty to the corner, where their drive drew another offence.

Playing with advantage, Anscombe kicked to the corner where the ball was gathered by Minnozi and he was hit high by full-back Williams. Penalty, yellow card, half-time.

However, Wales made light of their numerical disadvantage to stretch away in the opening stages of the second half thanks to Dragons captain Hill’s first Test try.

A Gareth Davies charge down earned a five-metre scrum from which North carried hard and the lock cut a nice line to power over from quick ball.

Anscombe made it 24-7 and Wales needed one more to get the job done, although their progress to the five-pointer was hindered by a yellow card for Davies for a deliberate knock on.

It wasn’t the most captivating of games and Wales were made to wait for their bonus when Parkes was deemed to have been just short when wriggling for the line from close range.

The wait wasn’t a long one. From the resulting scrum the hosts went on the attack and Patchell offloaded for North’s second.

Italy’s spirit was broken and Wales finished with a flourish with Tipuric crossing from a beautiful Parkes pass before wing Mattia Bellini’s late consolation.

Wales: L Williams (L Halfpenny 50); G North, O Watkin, H Parkes, S Evans; G Anscombe (R Patchell 60), G Davies (A Davies 60); N Smith (R Evans 60), E Dee (K Owens 60), T Francis (R Jones 67), C Hill (S Davies 65), B Davies, J Tipuric, J Davies (E Jenkins 65), T Faletau (captain).

Scorers: tries – H Parkes, G North (2), C Hill, J Tipuric; conversions – G Anscombe (3) L Halfpenny (2); penalty – G Anscombe Yellow cards: L Williams, G Davies

Italy: M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, G Bisegni, T Castello (J Haywards 5), M Bellini; T Allan (C Canna 68), M Violi (G Palazzani 63); A Lovotti (N Quaglio 60), L Ghiraldini (A Fabiani ), S Ferrari (T Pasquali 63), A Zanni, D Budd, S Negri (F Ruzza 67), M Mbanda (G Licata 14), S Parisse (captain).

Scorers: tries – M Minozzi, M Bellini; conversions – T Allan, C Canna Yellow card: T Benvenuti

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Attendance: 65,242

Argus star man: Hadleigh Parkes