England stutter to victory in Rome
April 7, 2002
Lawrence Dallaglio seals his comeback with a try
© Getty Images
England secured the runners-up spot in this year's Six Nations Championship with a 45-9 victory over Italy in Rome, but they failed to impress despite scoring six tries.
It was entirely predictable and yet at times utterly frustrating as England completed a low-key victory in Italy this afternoon to bring to an end a season of such early promise but ultimate failure.
Two tries from Will Greenwood and one each from Ben Cohen, Jason Robinson, Lawrence Dallaglio on his comeback and Austin Healey made the scoreline comfortably emphatic.
But this was a messy, miserable and thoroughly disjointed end to a Lloyds TSB Six Nations Championship which had been secured by France in imperious style against Ireland yesterday.
There is only one title that carries real kudos in the northern hemisphere these days and that is the Grand Slam.
Without it England's claims to be the best team in world rugby look somewhat shallow - and they did little to enhance their reputation in a Flaminio Stadium full of Italian hope but distressingly short on fluent action.
In many ways it was a game which showed just how much progress England have yet to make if they are to fulfil manager Clive Woodward's ambitions of bringing home the silverware at the World Cup in Australia in 18 months' time.
It always had the making of a strange afternoon. For England there was the surreal fact as they lined up that there were almost as many caps on the bench - 316 to be exact - as on the pitch in the shape of five British Lions and four England captains in Martin Johnson, Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard with the irrepressible Healey also keeping Charlie Hodgson and Dorian West company.
For Italy it was almost certain that this was New Zealander Brad Johnstone's last game in charge after three seasons of the Six Nations which have brought a solitary triumph - against Scotland in their first championship match.
There have been some pretty hefty defeats to go with that, including 80-23 last year at Twickenham and 59-12 when they last played England here in the Flaminio Stadium.
As it was, it did not take England long to set the scoreboard clicking, Wilkinson landing his first penalty after just two minutes following the inevitable scything run from Robinson.
Diego Dominguez, Italy's Argentinian-born fly-half, levelled matters four minutes later with a penalty.
But the signs were ominous when Greenwood then raced through an excuse for Italian tackling to dive under the posts for the first try of the game and the 18th of his Test career.
Johnson found himself back in action sooner than expected coming on after 19 minutes under the blood rule for Danny Grewcock - although his presence lasted a mere four minutes.
The Italians tried to slow the game down at every opportunity, giving away penalties, their spoiling tactics intent on disrupting England's pattern.
It was never going to influence the outcome but it did little at times for the spectacle.
The tries, however, were ruthless in their execution - Cohen blasting through Mauro Bergamasco and then Robinson finding himself 20 metres out with only two defenders to beat.
Those odds were always with 'Billy Whizz' and the most hypnotic feet in international rugby completed their inevitable work with consummate ease.
A half-time scoreline of 24-3 was a modest reflection of England's superiority.
But if Italy have little world-class talent on which to call they do have plenty of Azzurri guts and determination and the second half began with a wave of blue shirts cranking up the pressure.
Sporadically, England wilted, giving away a couple of penalties which Dominguez accepted gratefully to take the score to 24-9.
It was beginning to look increasingly obdurate to keep England's 'Lions' on the bench and in the 56th minute England manager Clive Woodward sent on the four England captains - Johnson, Dallaglio, Dawson and Leonard - to try to stem the Italian tide.
Thank heavens it worked, Dallaglio cashing on some ingenious running from Wilkinson to touch down with a flourish within two minutes of his Test comeback, a year to the day since his last game for England.
With Wilkinson still groggy after taking a knock Dawson completed the conversion and it seemed England were at last travelling again in the right direction.
It was Dawson who then produced the game's most inventive moment, taking a quick free-kick and chipping unexpectedly over his shoulder in a set move for Greenwood to race though to drop on the ball for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
The game petered out in cloying anti-climax with another flurry of Italian substitutions and young Charlie Hodgson coming on for centre Mike Tindall.
A late Healey try deep in injury-time brought a few England cheers from the fans who by then were no doubt looking forward to a night on the Via Veneto.
After all, they deserved some entertainment.
Italy: Peens, Mazzucato, C. Stoica, Raineri, Dallan, Dominguez, Troncon, De Carli, Moscardi, Pucciarello, Bortolami, Giacheri, Persico, M. Bergamasco, Phillips.
Replacements: Pez for Peens (74), Mazzantini for C. Stoica (80), Zanoletti for Raineri (50), Moretti for Moscardi (74), De Rossi for Phillips (50).
Not Used: Nieto, Dellape.
Pens: Dominguez 3.
England: Robinson, Luger, Greenwood, Tindall, Cohen, Wilkinson, Bracken, Rowntree, Thompson, White, Grewcock, Kay, Moody, Back, Hill.
Replacements: Hodgson for Tindall (78), Healey for Cohen (70), Dawson for Bracken (57), Leonard for Rowntree (57), West for Thompson (73), Johnson for Grewcock (58), Dallaglio for Back (58).
Tries: Greenwood 2, Cohen, Robinson, Dallaglio, Healey.
Cons: Wilkinson 5, Dawson.
Ref: Mark Lawrence (South Africa).
Firdose Moonda talks to Rob Louw about the difficulties of being a South African touring New Zealand at the height of Apartheid
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games