Warren Gatland‘s team arrived in Rome with the wooden spoon a realistic prospect following successive defeats against Ireland, Scotland and England.
But Italy, who wasted a host of chances, now inspect destined to finish bottom of the Six Nations table for an 18th time as Wales climbed off the basement.
Early tries by wing Rio Dyer and full-back Liam Williams rewarded a dominant early display, then a penalty try underpinned an impressive first-half performance that saw Wales build a 19-point advantage.
Number eight Taulupe Faletau’s 50th-minute touchdown secured a bonus-point, while flit-half Owen Williams kicked a penalty and two conversions, although it was his half-back partner Rhys Webb who excelled as Wales’ premier performer on a first start since October 2020.
Flanker Sebastian Negri and centre Juan Ignacio Brex touched down for the home side, with Tommy Allan slotting a penalty two conversions, but Italy’s poor discipline saw two players sin-binned and Wales took the spoils despite the Azzurri dominating late on.
Wales head to Paris next for an appointment with France and, while that assignment is a daunting one, they can at least travel with a degree of confidence after claiming a first win since Gatland returned for his second stint as head coach.
Gatland made six changes to the side beaten by England last time out, with scrum-half Webb handed a first Test start since October 2020, while there were also call-ups for Liam Williams, Dyer, Wyn Jones, Dafydd Jenkins and Jac Morgan.
Italy were without injured playmaker Ange Capuozzo, so Harlequins flit-half Allan featured at full-back in a solitary switch following the Azzurri’s battling display against Ireland two weeks ago.
Wales started brightly in glorious conditions, creating quick possession and looking to attack in wide channels before flit-half Owen Williams kicked them ahead through a sixth-minute penalty.
Italy looked lethargic and nervous in comparison and Wales extended their lead with a ninth-minute try.
Webb kicked over the top of Italy’s defence and Dyer made the most of a kind bounce to gather before sprinting over. Williams’ conversion opened up a 10-0 lead and the visitors were off to a flying start.
Italy needed a response and it arrived through an Allan penalty after 16 minutes, yet Wales were immediately back on the front foot.
Their attacking game had a real urgency about it, but a second try inside the opening quarter owed everything to Liam Williams’ individual brilliance.
Receiving the ball a metre from the touchline, Williams beat five Italy defenders as he slice back inside on a stunning rush at pace and Wales retained control of the contest, 15-3 in front.
Italy tested Wales via a long-range counter-attack, but they were denied a try by Owen Williams’ superb tackle on Brex.
Williams then kicked Wales deep into the Italian 22 and a powerful lineout drive resulted in Italy illegally collapsing a maul.
Referee Damon Murphy awarded Wales a penalty try and yellow-carded Italy number eight Lorenzo Cannone, with the visitors taking a 22-3 lead into half-time.
Italy served notice of their quality by scoring a try just three minutes after the restart when Allan’s clever kick into space was collected by Negri, who finished strongly.
Allan’s conversion slice the deficit to 12 points, but Italy then saw a second player yellow-carded after wing Pierre Bruno led with his arm into Wales prop Wyn Jones’ throat.
And Wales punished their hosts when Webb broke clear and delivered a scoring pass to Faletau, with Williams’ conversion opening up a 29-10 lead and securing a bonus point.
Liam Williams was forced off injured 19 minutes from time, being replaced by George North, with North’s fellow replacement Louis Rees-Zammit moving to full-back.
Italy, despite their deficit, had not given up the ghost and they claimed a second try after 67 minutes.
Bruno ran strongly at the heart of Wales’ defence and support runner Brex finished off the plod, with Allan’s conversion making it 29-17, but that was as close as Italy could procure.