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Gatland optimistic for World Cup

Warren Gatland delivered an upbeat assessment about Wales' World Cup prospects later this year as his team suffered an heroic RBS 6 Nations title failure at Stadio Olimpico.

Wales, lying in third place behind England and Ireland before kick-off, posted a record win against Italy, destroying the Azzurri 61-20.

Head coach Gatland looked on as Wales scored 47 second-half points, with wing George North claiming a try hat-trick in 11 minutes, while Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams and Sam Warburton also touched down.

Fly-half Dan Biggar kicked 15 points after taking over the kicking duties from full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who booted two penalties before going off suffering from concussion.

Ireland's emphatic victory over Scotland at Murrayfield ended Wales' hopes of silverware, but Gatland is relishing a World Cup campaign that will see him plotting the downfall of England and Australia, who are both in the same pool.

"We won't be going into the World Cup with any fears of not qualifying from our group," Gatland said.

"There is no fear about playing England at Twickenham or Australia as well, because we know we will be in good shape as long as everyone stays fit and clear of injuries.

"We can go there with some real confidence and belief that we can get out of our group.

"You have sides ranked fourth, fifth and sixth in the world, so that shows how tough it is to get out of that group, while Fiji with preparation will be tough as well.

"It is unfortunate that you are going to have one of the big teams not making the quarter-finals."

Wales laboured to a 14-13 interval lead against Italy, but then they cut loose, destroying their hosts through some mesmeric rugby highlighted by North's blistering finishing.

"The message at half-time was to make sure we were more accurate and kept the tempo up in the second half," Gatland added.

"We scored some great tries. The disappointing thing was conceding one right at the end and then missing a chance.

"It was probably a 14-point swing in terms of the points difference, but at half-time you would have taken that scoreline.

"I was proud of the boys and the effort, and the way they responded with some great rugby in the second half.

"We thought beforehand if we won by 40 points we would give ourselves a chance, and by 50 we might have put real pressure on the other two teams, so we had to wait and see.

"Everyone talks about the first half and second half, but in international rugby it does not matter who you are playing against, it's difficult to put a team away.

"We were under a bit of pressure at scrum-time in the first half and conceded a penalty from the kick-off. Italy really slowed the game down, but once we got into the game and got in front we started to play and we were very good.

"There is always a licence, no matter what people try to say, for these players to play what is in front of them. If they feel they can go from their own goal-line, they have that licence to make those decisions."

Wales reeled off four successive Six Nations wins after losing their opening game at home to England, and they will rue a second-half demise when Stuart Lancaster's side fought back from eight points adrift to win 21-16.

"I look back at that game, and in the second half we got dragged into a game that didn't suit us," Gatland said.

"That was a learning experience for us, and we have got to cope at times with teams playing a certain way against us, not being positive, and trying to play at their own pace and own tempo and impose themselves on us.

"We adapted well after that and played well for the rest of the tournament."

Italy coach Jacques Brunel had no explanation for his team's second-half demise, and in their last four Six Nations home games the Azzurri have now conceded a total of more than 160 points.

And Brunel was also questioned about his future in the top job following a Six Nations campaign highlighted by victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, but with the low points of emphatic home defeats against Ireland, France and Wales.

"What happened in the second half, there is no explanation for it," Brunel said.

"At half-time, we were in the game and I thought we were in a position to fight until the end, but we made a lot of mistakes and we need to investigate why.

"Our ambition was to perform well in this championship. We did something interesting in Scotland, but we could not continue that. The last two weeks, there is no doubt we have moved backwards in our game.

"It is not up to me in terms of my position. We will undergo a general evaluation of what happened in this championship, and we must sit down to understand our goals."

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