England were unconvincing 17-12 winners over Italy in Rome.
After England’s surprise win over Wales last week, their critics had called for a more attack-orientated game, especially from pivot Jonny Wilikinson. Similarly, Italy had been criticised for their unimaginative style, but in the opening half the Azzurri were the more positive side.
No 8 Alessandro Zanni was influential and although they didn’t manage to score tries, their endeavour resulted in two penalties from wing Mirco Bergamasco.
England were unsuccessful in their quest to cross the whitewash but their best chance came in the last move of the half, when Riki Flutey broke from his own half, but was pulled down on the opposition 22. The Italians eventually snuffed out the move, but not before Wilkinson – who had uncharacteristically earlier missed two attempts at goal – knocked over the penalty to level the scores 6-all at the break.
Finally the visitors broke the drought two minutes into the second half. Slick handling from the England backs and then No 8 Nick Easter put Mathew Tait away down the left touchline, and his pace meant he evaded the cross cover to score the only try of the match. England began to dominate and the Italians began to wilt under the pressure.
Martin Castrogiovanni was then yellow-carded for a cynical infringement on their own line, but being down a man spurred the hosts into life. This 10-minute period again highlighted England’s attacking deficiencies and poor ball retention as they only scored three points, with the Italians dominating possession and scoring three of their own.
With momentum swinging in their favour, the Italians continued their onslaught and Bergamasco narrowed the lead to just two with nine minutes remaining. The home crowd truly believe their greatest ever upset was on.
Wilkinson may have failed to ignite his side on attack – again taking the ball deep behind the advantage line – but he did silence the spectators with a trademark drop-goal to restore the cushion.
By Grant Ball