England battle past brave Italy
February 11, 2006
Mar Cueto slides in to score England's third try
© Getty Images
England kept their Grand Slam hopes alive by grinding out a 31-16 victory over an ever-improving Italy at the Stadio Flaminio.
Tries from Mike Tindall, Charlie Hodgson, Mark Cueto and James Simpson-Daniel were enough to see off another brave performance from a rejuvenated Azzurri whose only try came from Mirco Bergamasco.
Andy Robinson's side were made to work hard for much of the game but in the end the physical exertion took its toll on Pierre Berbizier but he will take comfort from one of Italy's best performances since they entered the championship stage.
England may have dominated the opening half in terms of possession and territory but they only held a narrow one point advantage at half time.
As expected the Italian forwards more than held their own and repelled England's forwards time and time again with a notably disciplined performance.
And at times they took the game to England up front and arguably showed more creativity in the backs with Nitoglia going close.
As a reward the Italians were offered the first opportunity to open the scoring but Pez could only hit the post.
Stung into action the England forwards then bludgeoned the Italian line for several minutes, with England opting to kick to the corner in search of the catch and drive score.
But Corry and co lacked the clinical finish required with the England skipper coming closest when he was held up over the line.
Finally when Ben Cohen was guilty of holding on after the tackle as England finally decided to spread the ball, the Azzurri's forwards celebrated as if they had scored and could lay claim to a moral victory.
After such defensive efforts it was sadly a mistake that allowed England in for the opening try.
Off a good lineout ball, Tindall exploited a gap in the Italian line and shrugged off a poor tackle from Sergio Parisse before bursting past Paul Griffen and dotting down. Hodgson added the extras to give England some breathing space but the Italians were in no mood to offer such.
Pez slotted his first conversion on the half hour mark to close the gap before adding a sweetly struck drop goal from 40m.
England pressured again towards the close of the half but when Hodgson had no other option, he could only pull his own drop goal attempt wide of the posts.
Spurred on by their first half efforts Italy were keen to garner further reward after the break and a second drop goal from Pez put his side ahead much to the delight of the vociferous crowd.
England rallied again and first Tindall was held up short of the line before Cueto failed to claim a cross kick from Hodgson.
The England No.10 was the next to go close but they struggled to recycle quick ball and the resilient Italian defence held firm even when stretched.
A long-range penalty from Hodgson then gave England a narrow advantage before the introduction of Matt Dawson coincided with a raise in tempo for the visitors.
Thriving off quick ball England streamed forward again, Joe Worsley bounced off two tackles to crave the Italian defence open before Dawson fed Hodgson who raced in for try before adding the conversion.
By now the Italians, who were made to make three times as many tackles as their visitors, were showing the signs of fatigue but to their credit the floodgates never seemed like opening.
Hodgson failed with his next penalty attempt but England's dominance soon saw Cueto cross for his 11th try in 13 appearances. Another good lineout laid the platform before Ben Cohen cut a good line before feeding the Sale star who held off the challenge of Mirco Bergamasco to score.
Hodgson nailed an excellent conversion to put the result beyond doubt but there was still life left in the game.
With only a couple of minutes to go Italian centre Gonzalo Canale produced a superb break, evading some poor England tackling, then fed Bergamasco who handed off Hodgson before touching down to bring the home crowd to its feet.
Pez added the conversion to bring more balance to the scoreboard but in a disappointing finish a turnover in the last move of the game offered Simpson-Daniel the easiest try he is ever likely to score.
The performance rather than the result underlines Italy's growing stature in the competition and such endeavour will need to be repeated if they are to cement their improvement with a victory.
England remain on course for a clean sweep and will be quietly confident after showing once again illustrating patience before clinically breaking down a resilient opponent.
And if Wales beat Millennium Stadium visitors Scotland tomorrow, then England are the only side who could clinch a Six Nations Grand Slam this term, just a fortnight into the tournament.
Italy: 16 Try: Mirco Bergamasco Con: Pez Pen: Pez D-G: Pez (2)
England: 31 Try: Tindall, Hodgson, Cueto, Simpson-Daniel Con: Hodgson (4) Pen: Hodgson
Italy: Stoica; Canavosio, Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, Nitoglia; Pez, Griffen, Parisse; Perugini, Ongaro, Nieto; Dellape, Bortolami; Sole, Marco Bergamasco, Parisse.
Replacements: Festuccia, Lo Cicero, Castrogiovanni, Del Fava, Orlando, Picone, Wakarua.
England: Voyce; Cueto, Noon, Tindall, Cohen; Hodgson, Ellis; Sheridan, Thompson, Stevens; Borthwick, Grewcock; Worsley, Moody, Corry.
Replacements: Mears, White, Shaw, Dallaglio, Dawson, Goode, Simpson-Daniel. Referee: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)