Match report: England scrape home in Rome
February 10, 2008
Jonny Wilkinson passed 1000 points with an early penalty
© Getty Images
England survived a second-half comeback to notch a 23-19 victory over Italy in their Six Nations Championship clash at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome. Jonny Wilkinson clocked up 1,000 points for England as he guided the World Cup finalists through a hazardous Italian job and revived their RBS 6 Nations campaign.
Fly-half superstar Wilkinson, slammed in several quarters for his poor performance during the Twickenham implosion against Wales last weekend, booted three penalties and converted early tries by wing Paul Sackey and centre Toby Flood.
England, though, were almost guilty of another calamitous collapse. Having blown a 19-6 advantage to lose by seven points against Wales, this time Italy threatened to wipe out a 20-6 interval lead. Substitute scrum-half Simon Picone's late try - he charged down a kick by Wilkinson's replacement Danny Cipriani - plus 14 points from full-back David Bortolussi ensured a tense finale.
England did just enough, even if their performance did nothing to alarm tournament favourites France, England's next Six Nations opponents in Paris on Saturday week. England prevailed, despite losing six players - Phil Vickery, Mike Tindall, David Strettle, Andrew Sheridan, Lewis Moody and Tom Rees - through injury or illness.
Vickery was the latest withdrawal, being laid low by a stomach bug that meant Bath lock Steve Borthwick captained England for the first time and Matt Stevens packed down in the front-row. England threatened to emphatically brush off those setbacks by claiming well-worked tries during the opening 15 minutes for Sackey and Flood, both after Wilkinson delivered the scoring pass.
But the floodgates didn't open, and England fell way short of maintaining their 46 points per game average for the fixture in Rome. England head coach Brian Ashton will be satisfied with the win, yet the performance dipped markedly at half-time as the visitors once again took their collective foot off the pedal.
Had Italy possessed more attacking flair and invention behind the scrum, it might have proved a different story and they could have celebrated a famous victory. England though, hung on to at least give their Six Nations season a flicker of hope, even if title aspirations - on current evidence - remain a distant dream.
England, given all their injury problems, needed a steady start against a fired-up Italian side. And Wilkinson inevitably provided it, gathering his own kick in space and then sending Sackey sprinting clear to the line for a brilliantly conceived and executed try.
Wilkinson nonchalantly landed the touchline conversion, and although Bortolussi replied by booting a long-range penalty, England could feel pleased with the initial flurries. Italy though, were quick to use their forwards, and when wing Lesley Vainikolo was penalised for not releasing possession inside his own 22, Bortolussi kicked the three points.
It was a timely reminder to England of Italy's threat in the game, but the visitors came up trumps with a second try on 15 minutes. Centre Jamie Noon charged down Bortolussi's attempted clearance, and when he found Wilkinson in support, Noon's midfield partner Flood looped around cleverly to claim his second touchdown in successive Six Nations Tests.
Wilkinson's conversion brought up his 1,000 points, and England led 14-6 before Bortolussi drifted a drop-goal attempt wide. Wilkinson then booted two penalties as half-time approached, keeping a disappointing Italian side comfortably at bay and building the platform for an emphatic success.
England needed to ease back into their first-half rhythm, but a third Bortolussi penalty set the tone for a second period that Italy "won''. Italy sensed they could perhaps get back in the contest, and it took a 40-metre Wilkinson touchfinder to keep the Azzurri out of England's half.
Italy, not before time, had raised the tempo following a laboured first-half display, and Ashton made a temporary midfield switch by sending on Mathew Tait for his bloodied Newcastle team-mate Noon. And Tait was immediately called upon, producing some high-class defensive work to deal with Azzurri centre Gonzalo Canale's clever kick.
England though, lost a lineout on their own throw, and Bortolussi slotted a fourth penalty from an ensuing infringement, narrowing the gap to eight points. Wilkinson's third successful penalty made it 23-12 with 20 minutes left, which was the cue for Ashton to send on Sale Sharks scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth for his Test debut.
Noon, having received treatment to a head wound, returned on 63 minutes instead of Tait, but England lost Easter, who limped off and was replaced by Gloucester's Luke Narraway. England needed another try to take the game totally away from Italy, yet Ashton felt he could take off Wilkinson with 13 minutes still remaining, giving Cipriani a chance to pull the strings.
Italy though, were just a converted try away from causing possible panic in English ranks, and the visitors couldn't relax. And the try arrived when Picone charged down Cipriani's attempted clearance to gallop clear. Bortolussi slotted the extras, and England - once again - were left hanging on before gratefully hearing referee Alain Rolland's final whistle.
England (17) 23
Italy (6) 19
Italy: D Bortolussi (Montpellier); K Robertson (Arix Viadana), G Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), E Galon (Overmach Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), P Travagli (Overmach Parma); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape' (Biarritz), CA del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais).
Replacements: C Festuccia (Racing-Metro), S Perugini (Stade Toulousain), C Nieto (Gloucester), A Zanni (Calvisano), S Piccone (Treviso), A Marcato (Treviso), A Sgarbi (Treviso).
England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), M Regan (Bristol), T Payne (Wasps), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath, capt), J Haskell (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), J Hobson (Bristol), B Kay (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle).
Referee: A. Rolland (Ire)
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