Eight-try England kick-off in style
October 2, 1999
Jonny Wilkinson dives in to score past Nicola Mazzucato of Italy
© Getty Images
England had never lost a match against Italy and never looked like breaking that habit today in their RWC'99 opener. However, since this Italian side leaked 101 points to the Sprinkboks as recently as July the task for Clive Woodward's men was more how, rather than if, they would win their World Cup opener. The question was would England be able to rise to the boil in the pressure cooker of World Cup rugby.
This question was answered with a strong affirmative before even a quarter of the game had gone and only the most one-eyed Kiwi can fail to predict a close encounter when England face the All Blacks next week. England underlined their credentails as the northern hemisphere's best hopes for success and displayed a ruthlessness that would be welcomed in Waikato, not least the thirty two point contribution from Johnny Wilkinson.
The desperate sales pitch of the touts outside the ground suggested that the game had failed to capture the public's imagination. Sure enough several batches of empty seats suggested that tickets had disappeared into over-priced corporate packages, never to be seen by a true rugby fan.
The sixty-five thousand odd who did attend were in good voice as Johnny Wilkinson got preceedings under way, a deep kick giving Australian Matt Pini his first touch of the ball.
Although Italy threatened in the opening minutes the Twickenham faithful were soon witness to the familiar sight of Wilkinson kicking three points for the home side, so settling some early nerves.
The clock hadn't the decency even to register a change in minutes when Matt Dawson scored a wonderful opportunist try. His blind side kick was missed by Matt Pini but retrieved by Austin Healy and when the winger fed his scrum half the Italians looked safe. Woeful defence as much as Dawson's eye for the main chance saw the number nine wriggle past three tackles before grounding the ball in the right hand corner.
Although Wilkinson missed that conversion England went up 14-0 shortly after. The fly-half made sure of two simple penalties as the Italians were forced to encroach in a forlorn attempt to stem the tide of white shirts.
Dan Luger then went close but this one way traffic was briefly halted when Italy's Argentinian points' machine, Diego Dominguez, intercepted a Matt Dawson pass during a brief incursion into the England twenty =-two and just had the legs to outpace Austin Healy to the line. The fly-half converted his own score to drag the Italains back to within ten points.
Normal service was shortly resumed when Cristian Stoica, the Narbonne centre, obstructed Will Greenwood's path on his way to collecting a Wilkinson chip ahead. The flyhalf's kick made the score 20-7 in a match that increasingly had the feel of the pre-tournament warm-up games.
The only fly in the England ointment was the injury to Will Greenwood without whom their chances of dominating the All Black midfield are considerably lessened. White-shirted fans will hope his hamstring injury does not prove serious. Still the crowd were able to cheer the arrival of favoured son Jeremy Guscott.
Richard Hill gave them even more reason to cheer when Dawson fed his flanker on the blind side from a ruck forty yards out. The suprised number six enjoyed an unchallenged run to the line as the constant tackling took its toll on the visitor's energy and enthusiasm.
Minutes later it was de Glanville's turn. Dawson ran through umpteen challengers before cutting inside. Healy in support then off-loaded to his centre who had only to dart ten yards before diving under the posts. England's game plan was going like clockwork. The Italians are never normally the best timekeepers but they wasted no time in heading for the dressing room when Andre Watson blew his whistle for half-time one minute later.
Italy started the second-half doing what they had done for most of the first, giving away needless penalties and making England's job considerably easier than they needed to.
Ten minutes into the half and Matt Perry joined the scoreboard although Healy again merited an assist. His outside break when he found himself at centre let the England fullback into the right-hand corner. Healy again was provider just a minute later when his sprint and hack enabled Wilkinson to flop over for a score after Luca Martin had failed to secure the lose ball. Wilkinson who had missed the last conversion from the same place, clearly takes better care with his own tries and duly made good the touchline kick.
Almost inevitably England took their foot of the gas and Italy enjoyed several fruitless minutes hammering on the home defence in the final quarter. England took the opportunity to display that their defence is every bit as accomplished as their fifteen-man attack.
Sure enough England were soon back up the business end of the park. Luger touched down after good work from Dallaglio and some excellent distribution from de Glanville who enjoyed an excellent game from whistle to whistle. Neil Back and Matin Corry both grabbed tries at the death to inflate the final score to 67-7.
It has been a miserable year for the Italians and nothing today was designed to cheer them up much. On top of the hiding by England they had two players, Giovanelli and Moscardi, yellow-carded for persistent infringement. They have two more tough games against New Zealand and Tonga to look forward to.
England will await the arrival of the tournament favourites with keen anticipation. There is the worry that their recent opposition has given them a false sense of their standing in world rugby. That may be so but they did all that was asked of them today and will hope to fulfil a similar job next week.
Could the sweet smell of success be descending upon the old cabbage patch at last?