No. 8 Taulupe Faletau proved the creative spark as three tries in the final 22 minutes helped Wales hold off a spirited fight from Italy to secure a 38-18 victory in Llanelli on Saturday and fifth place in the Autumn Nations Cup.
It was a far from perfect display by Wales, whose ill-discipline at the breakdown kept Italy in the game until the final quarter, but tries from scrum-halves Kieran Hardy and Gareth Davies, hooker Sam Parry, centre George North and flanker Justin Tipuric secured a morale-boosting win 65 days out from their first 2021 Six Nations game.
Italy lost all eight tests in 2020 and have not beaten a tier one nation in four years, but they should be buoyed by a competitive performance as tries from centre Marco Zanon and flanker Johan Meyer saw them lead deep in the second half.
It ended a difficult first year in charge for Wales coach Wayne Pivac, who led his team to three wins in 10 tests, two against Italy and one versus Georgia. He will be the most relieved that his side finished strongly to keep Italy at bay.
"We wanted the result we got today, but there is still lots in that performance we need to work on," Faletau said at the post-match presentation.
"We scored a couple of tries and maybe took our foot off the gas to let them back into the game. That was disappointing."
The excellent Faletau put Tipuric through with a run to the Italian line before the latter released for Harding to score the opening try.
Perry bundled over from close range on his first start for Wales as they led 14-0, but suffered a blow when fullback Liam Williams hobbled off to be replaced by Ioan Lloyd.
Italy began to grow into the game and scored a superb try just past the half hour mark when Carlo Canna grubbered the ball behind the Wales defence for centre partner Marco Zanon to race through and score.
Wales' repeated infringements saw Josh Adams sin-binned and fly-half Paolo Garbisi slotted a penalty to move Italy to within a single point at halftime.
After a Callum Sheedy penalty for the hosts, Italy took the lead with another fine team try as they stretched Wales from wing to wing, before Meyer powered past weak defence.
But the creative spark of Faletau turned the tide in Wales' favour again, setting up tries for Davies and Tipuric to go with a North score as Pivac's side finished strongly.