England scrape past gutsy Italy
February 14, 2010
England winger Mark Cueto is shackled by the Italian defence
© Getty Images
England scraped to a 17-12 victory over a vastly improved Italy side in their Six Nations clash at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome.
Mathew Tait scored the only try of the game in the second-half and Jonny Wilkinson kicked 12 points, but Martin Johnson's men were under pressure for long stretches of the game and failed to take advantage of a second-half sin-binning for Italian tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni. Mirco Bergamasco kicked all of Italy's points as the home side threatened an upset with three uncharacteristic missed penalties from Wilkinson opening the door for the Azzurri.
Riki Flutey returned to the England midfield and Dan Cole was granted a full debut at tight-head, but both players were unable to spark a below-par side into life.
England were almost ahead after a matter of seconds, Flutey pulling the strings and Danny Care feeding his backline with quick ball. Delon Armitage chipped ahead and chased hard, but Italian scrum-half Tito Tebaldi was able to beat the London Irish fullback to the bouncing ball.
Italy immediately began peppering the English back-three with kicks, but the visitors were reluctant to counter attack in the opening stages. It was Italy who took on the challenge in attack, with Luke McLean and Gonzalo Canale flying clear before England cynically swept the ball back from a ruck. Italy went to the corner and used, good, flat ball on the gainline. They produced waves of quick ball, with Man of the Match Alessandro Zanni collecting a cross-kick and just failing to find a scoring pass.
England kicked long and looked to put the Italian lineout under pressure, as it was in Dublin a week ago, with a stolen throw yielding the opening points for Wilkinson after Mauro Bergamasco went in at the side of a maul.
England gifted the points back to the home side by not rolling away at the restart, with Bergamasco clipping over the penalty. Italy retreated to their kicking game but ineffective chasing left England with plenty of time to clear, their aimless kicks slowing the game's entertaining start.
Wilkinson joined the line well to spark an excellent England attack, drawing the defence and putting Mark Cueto into space. Monye flew up in support but was hammered into touch by a brilliant Gonzalo Garcia cover tackle.
Wilkinson missed his next shot at goal, secured by Tim Payne at the scrum, but Monye sparked an English attack by charging at the heart of the Italian defence, The Harlequins wing ignored his inside options and an isolated Haskell was penalised just inside the Italian 22. The hosts failed to capitalise with a terrible kick from Tebaldi spiralling out on the full, and a blatant offside call allowed Wilkinson to kick to the corner.
Cole rumbled on but Italy looked to have secured possession, only for the referee's whistle to confirm another offside penalty for England. From straight in front England should have secured reward for an enterprising period of play, but Wilkinson shanked his kick wide. Bergamasco narrowly missed a shot at goal after England conceded a spate of forward penalties and while Italy looked to run the ball, the visitors' defence was rarely troubled as they toiled behind the gainline. England made better use of the ball after securing a turnover, Tait intelligently varying his angles of attack to take play to within five metres of the Italian line. England were unable to secure quick ball and were awarded a scrum, from which their opponents secured a turnover and cleared their lines.
England persisted with their aimless kicking from deep, but their net gain was to slip three points down after conceding first territory and then a penalty once Italy had secured possession from their shaky lineout.
Flutey sparked England into life just before the break by bursting clear on his own 22, taking play deep into Italian territory with a brilliant surge. Italy were offside in defence and when Castrogiovanni stopped the attack in its tracks with a shuddering tackle, Wilkinson levelled the scores.
Italy started the second period the brighter, with England continuing to kick mercilessly. Craig Gower missed a long-range shot at goal after Flutey was guilty of a high tackle to stop a Mclean counter. England struck immediately for the opening try, with the visitors finally opting to keep the ball in hand. Easter carried well and found Monye, who slipped out of Andrea Masi's tackle and popped the ball inside to Armitage. The fullback had Tait on an excellent support angle and the Sale centre made no mistake.
Wilkinson missed the conversion and but for a poor pass by Tebaldi, Italy may have hit back immediately. Quick hands between Garcia and McLean freed Masi, but Tebaldi's poor effort ended their momentum. Care sniped through the Italian line to open up space for England but their chance died with a forward pass from Tait.
England put the Italian lineout under pressure following an excellent clearance by Tait and after a hurried clearance Monye put his foot down and carved a path towards the line. Bergamasco got back to cover as the Quins winger again ignored his options, but England had a penalty. Care kicked the ball to the corner as Wilkinson ran off a knock, with Castrogiovanni killing the ball immediately and heading to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.
Wilkinson kicked the simple penalty but England struggled to regain their position of dominance as their lineout faltered and Italy dominated possession. Bergamasco slotted a shot at goal after Gonzalo Canale had stretched the English defence and Italy continued to probe with McLean and Masi sparking half breaks before positive running from Cueto yielded a pressure-relieving penalty.
A penalty against Moody ended Castrogiovanni's sin-bin, with England having failed to capitalise on the scoreboard. Italy continued to press, Bergamasco's third penalty drawing Italy to within two points as the clock ticked past 70 minutes.
The English forwards finally regained some composure and used several effective mauls to set up position and after they had drawn the backs, Wilkinson chipped over a drop-goal that opened up vital breathing space and sealed the home side's fate.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies