CARDIFF -- Wales survived a second-half fightback by Italy to launch the defence of its Six Nations title with an unconvincing 23-15 win at Millennium Stadium on Saturday. First-half tries by Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams combined with flawless kicking by Leigh Halfpenny to give the Welsh a 17-3 lead at the break. Unlucky to be so far behind, Italy dominated the second half, with Michele Campagnaro scoring two tries to leave his team just five points behind with 11 minutes left. However, another penalty by Halfpenny ensured Wales preserved its unbeaten home record against the Italians and saw the fullback finish the match with a personal haul of 13 points. "It will focus the minds for next week," said Wales coach Warren Gatland, referring to Saturdays match in Ireland. "It wasnt an easy run-out -- it was tough, which was the way we wanted it." The Welsh are seeking an unprecedented third straight title since the tournament expanded in 2000, and have been installed as favourites by most pundits and bookmakers. Yet they were given a real scare by Italy, and with the score at 20-15 after Campagnaros second try, there was a real danger that Wales would lose its opening match -- like it did last year to Ireland. In the end, Wales limped to victory and there were muted celebrations by the players after the final whistle. "We certainly made it hard for ourselves," Wales centre Jamie Roberts said. "We have to tighten up those mistakes in our game. If we dont, then well lose against Ireland." It had all looked so different after just four minutes, when covering winger Angelo Esposito failed to gather a grubber kick by Wales flyhalf Rhys Priestland. The ball slithered through into the in-goal area and the inrushing Cuthbert had the simple task of collecting and diving over for a try that was converted by Halfpenny. The Italians didnt buckle, though. And after Allan and Halfpenny traded penalties to leave the score 10-3 after 29 minutes, Sergio Parisse was denied a try in the 35th by the video referee, who adjudged the Italy captain to have knocked on as he challenged for a high ball with George North. Somewhat against the run of play, Wales scored its second try three minutes later when Roberts broke a tackle in midfield before passing inside to centre partner Williams, who cantered over to ground near the posts. Italys comeback was launched in the 43rd, though, when Campagnaro chased down Leonardo Sartos smart kick down the line and dived over just before the ball went dead. Crucially, Allan missed the conversion, then a penalty in the 50th. Halfpenny booted another penalty in the 67th but blotted his performance by sending over a floated pass that was intercepted by Campagnaro, who raced clear from inside his own half to dive over. Italy couldnt complete the recovery, and remains with just one away win in the Six Nations -- at Scotland. "As a captain, I am very proud of what the youngsters achieved today," Parisse said. "They were facing some of the most talented backs on the international stage, but they showed they can compete at this level." http://www.themichaelkorshandbagsoutlet.com/michael-kors-drawstring-bags-outlet/
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.ca! Kerry: Could you explain how the officials are chosen for the NHL playoffs? What criteria are used to select who works these games and who gets to move into each ensuing round? Thanks,Clark Groome Clark: I always enjoy our conversations when you and I meet in the Wells Fargo Arena press box to cover a Philadelphia Flyers home game.While every team should have been happy with the word that the NBA and the players are (once again) looking to end this lockout with focused negotiations, the Toronto Raptors have to be at or near the top of the list of thankful teams. Thats because the Raptors, as much as any team in the NBA, need there to be a 2011-2012 season. The superficial reasons are obvious: as a young team, all the time they can get for their kids is important. Yet, while thats at the crux of the need for the Raptors, the particular nuances of that fact require more focused attention. Here, then, are the five most important reasons that the Raptors need this season to happen. 1. Extending DeMar Whether the 2011-2012 season happens or not, DeMar DeRozan is going to be up for an extension next summer. Financially, the Raptors are in a position to offer him anything they want, up to the maximum allowable salary. However, DeRozan finished last season at something of a crossroads. He had a tremendous finish to the year - averaging 19.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg after the All-Star break - but he still needed a lot of work on defence, passing, three-point shooting, and absorbing contact on drives. Another season of growth like last years would thrust DeRozan into near stardom in the NBA, but he needs to demonstrate and prove that growth in order to be paid like a star. The issue is this: If there is no season, how do the Raptors assess his value? Low-ball him and he may sour on the team, something a squad that loses stars with regularity cannot afford. Overpay him and not only would they screw up their cap flexibility, but the fans could turn on him for not living up to his contract (and theyd turn on Bryan Colangelo for giving it to him). They need this season to see if DeRozan is the real deal or not, because his development is as essential to the teams rebuilding plans as any player on the roster. Just about everything - from roster composition to cap space - will stem from this decision, so they need to be able to make it as informed as possible, and to do that they need to see him play this season. 2. The Bargnani Debacle One of the reasons that the Raptors hired Dwane Casey as their head coach was so that he could try to hide Andrea Bargnani on defence the same way that he hid Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. If Bargnani can be so hidden, then his place in Torontos future may be cemented. If he cannot be, then the Raptors need to divest themselves of his services. They have to see him play under Casey, though, to know one way or another. So why the urgency? Because no player on the roster requires as much compensating for as Bargnani; and if Colangelo is to make roster alterations to continue this rebuilding process, he needs to know if Bargnani is a piece worth compensating for anymore or not. This season was meant to be a freebie of sorts for Casey and Colangelo; a year where everyone knew losing was inevitable but they could tinker with their roster makeup before getting a windfall of cap space, a potentially dynamite draft pick in a loaded draft, and the arrival of the centre of the future, Jonas Valanciunas. After next summer, the expectations are going to heat up, and they cant afford to continue assessing Bargnani in that environment. By next summer they need to know - one way or another - what they are doing with him, and they need this season to figure out what the answer to that question is. 3. The Power Forward Glut versus The Draft There is one thing that is pretty clear about this upcoming mega-draft: it is power forward heavy. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, QQuincy Miller, Thomas Robinson, John Henson, James Michael McAdoo, Terrence Jones - all of these guys are potential lottery picks next spring, and each and every one is a power forward.dddddddddddd In fact, on Chad Fords ESPN Big Board, only two of his top ten are NOT power forwards (Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal). The Raptors, of course, are already loaded at the position with Bargnani, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, with James Johnson and Linas Kleiza both naturally more comfortable at the position as well. Thats a situation that needs a little clarification ahead of the 2012 NBA draft. Lets assume a few things first off. If Anthony Davis is on the board when they pick, they take him and figure out the logjam later. Hes better than anyone they have. If Davis is gone but Barnes is available, they take Barnes to shore up their small forward spot. After that, things get tricky. The team doesnt really know what they have in Ed Davis yet, nor how theyd rank him against guys like Drummond, Sullinger or Henson. He had a strong first season, but hardly an earth-shattering one. Are they ready to marginalize him for one of the aforementioned guys? Maybe, but theyd really prefer to have another season of watching Davis to know if thats a good idea or not. If they play out the season and Davis (or Bargnani) really impresses, then perhaps the team focuses its attention more on guys like Beal, Jeremy Lamb or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Its incredibly hard to say at this point in the NCAA season, obviously, but making an informed decision about a lottery loaded with stud power forwards when youve got (somewhat) incomplete information about your own power forwards is a situation that is far from ideal for Toronto. They need a season to bring clarity to this issue before June. 4. The Amnesty Clause Almost certain to be included in the new CBA is a clause that will allow a team to sever ties with one of their players without having their salary count against the cap (though the player still gets paid). The amnesty does not need to happen immediately, but heading into next summer - where lots of cap space promises to be available regardless - adding to their flexibility by cutting Jose Calderon, Kleiza, Bargnani, or no one is a decision that could use a season to sort out. If, for instance, Bargnani shows zero improvement under Casey, shouldnt he be at least considered for amnesty? Of course, the team needs to see him play under Casey to figure that out. Using the amnesty rule to open up more cap space next summer could have franchise-altering effects on this roster, given the talent that could be available. But so could making the wrong decision about the amnesty use because the team had only a fraction of the information that they needed to make a good one. A season would help sort out that issue tremendously. 5. The Short Deals At the heart of all of this decision making is the fact that the men making the decisions - Colangelo and Casey - are on short two-year guaranteed deals right now. Lose this season, and both have only one year to prove that they are worth keeping around for another kick at the can. Thats a perilously short period of time, especially for Casey, whod basically have to coach for his life with a new team that is unused to playing defence the way he wants it played (which is playing it at all). If he cant bring hope back to the ACC then both he and Colangelo are likely goners. They need this season to happen so that they have a bit more breathing room to do their jobs before their jobs are put into jeopardy by expiring contracts. ' ' '