England produced another second-half shocker in the Six Nations, but still managed to beat Italy 23-19 in Rome.
The World Cup finalists scored two early tries and led 20-6 at half-time. However, instead of putting the Italians away, they faded badly, just as they did against Wales at Twickenham last weekend.
Italy coach Nick Mallett must have had a few harsh words to say at half-time, because his forwards finally started attacking the ruck area instead of standing back. As a result, the hosts had 63% possession in the second half and scored 13 points to England’s three.
Despite seeing little of the ball, England appeared to have the game wrapped up at 23-12 with seven minutes to go. But Danny Cipriani, on for Jonny Wilkinson at flyhalf, had his chip kick charged down by replacement scrumhalf Simon Picone, who scored under the posts to set up a thrilling finale.
Unfortunately for Italy – who are ranked 11th in the world â€“ they lost possession inside England territory with a minute to go, and never threatened to score again.
While this was a match of poor quality, the first quarter was reasonably entertaining.
Wilkinson was slammed by the English press following the defeat to Wales, but the flyhalf made an instant impact in this match when he regathered his chip ahead and threw a brilliant back-flip pass to winger Paul Sackey, who scored the try.
Wilkinson nailed the conversion, only for two penalties from Italy fullback David Bortolussi to make it 7-6.
However, Bortolussi turned from hero to zero when he took an eternity to kick inside his own half and was charged down by Jamie Noon. The centre regathered and the ball sent wide to Toby Flood, who dived over extravagantly in the corner. Wilkinson’s conversion took him past 1,000 Test points in an England jersey.
Wilkinson then missed an easy penalty attempt, before slotting two just before half-time that made it 20-6.
Two Bortolussi penalties after the break cut England’s lead to eight, only for Wilkinson to kick one of his own. However, Italy soon took control of the game and were rewarded with Picone’s late try.
Italy â€“ Try: Simon Picone. Conversion: Bortolussi. Penalties: David Bortolussi (4).
England â€“ Tries: Paul Sackey, Toby Flood. Conversions: Jonny Wilkinson (2). Penalties: Wilkinson (3).
By Simon Borchardt