But instead, Wales will kick off knowing another bonus-point win over Les Bleus will assure them of the runners-up spot behind Ireland, who have already clinched the title.
Hadleigh Parkes and North scored within the first seven minutes but the early Welsh onslaught was checked by a smart finish from Matteo Minozzi, one of the few bright sparks in another disappointing Italian campaign.
Wing George North - back in action following a recent hard time at his club Northampton - set the tone with a try double, while centre Hadleigh Parkes, lock Cory Hill and flanker Justin Tipuric also crossed.
Wales have tended to struggle when making mass changes when they play a second-tier nation in the autumn, with new players slow to adapt, but the players have been in camp for six weeks and the starting lineup are geared for a fast, open game.
"To make that many changes and win comfortably was pleasing".
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The slain militants include Eesa Fazili of Soura Srinagar , Owais Shafi of Vailoo Kokernag and a third unidentified militant. Three terrorists were killed in a brief encounter with the security forces here in Anantnag on Monday.
"That's his second Man of the Match for us and if you look at the other games he has played, it's just how accurate he has been". But we achieved what we wanted to do and we have our destiny in our own hands next week.
Wales was momentarily reduced to 13 men as Gareth Davies joined Williams in the sin bin after an intentional knock-on, but defended stoutly to maintain its lead and took advantage once it was back to full strength.
Liam Williams saw yellow for a risky tackle on his opposite number Matteo Minozzi at the end of the first half and did not return to the field, Gatland sending on Leigh Halfpenny when the sin-bin period was up.
Williams' temporary exclusion was met by a chorus of boos from a crowd of over 65,000, but Gatland had no complaints about the decision of French referee Jerome Garces.
"We are here for him", Gatland said.
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Todd wasn't amused. "Yeah, they were hilarious", he said before ending the interview. Mnuchin played down the dismissal of Waters on Sunday as " campaign rally issues".
"Whether he gets cited as a result of that ... but I was disappointed in that if he needed to make the tackle did he need to go that high?
We have good players but they sometimes need a cool head around them to keep them calm at times". The way the game was we couldn't afford potentially, with that time on the clock, something else to happen and him to get another yellow card then a red and put us under pressure.
Gatland said replacing Williams "was about sending a subtle message really".
This latest reverse meant Italy had now lost 16 successive Championship matches. He should feel relieved as he scours for his first victory in the Six Nations since taking charge two summers ago and, if Italy either win or come close to doing so for the first time in Cardiff, he may have a different take.
Italy will equal that unwanted record if they are beaten by Scotland in Rome on Saturday.
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The show will be aired on TBS for the first time since CBS and Turner Sports began partnering on NCAA Tournament coverage in 2011. These three tournament teams have been struggling as of late, and seem to be hobbling into the NCAA tournament.