England were unconvincing in their 19-15 win over Italy in Rome.
The stage was set for an upset. At a snowy Stadio Olimpico, Italy held a shock 12-6 lead at the break – which became 15-6 early in the second half after a Kris Burton penalty, much to the delight of a passionate home crowd.
However, England – who failed to impress for most parts of the match – managed to seal the win after the momentum swung following flyhalf Charlie Hodgson’s charged down try. Inside centre Owen Farrell delivered a flawless kicking display to add the extras and nail two crucial penalties, which was enough for victory. South African-born reserve flyhalf Tobias Botes had two difficult penalty attempts in the last quarter, but he missed both.
England were errant in general play from the outset, and the Italians capitalised to gain the early ascendancy. The hosts’ backline looked sharper than it did in their defeat against France last weekend, but poor handling at crucial moments proved costly.
The visitors fought their way back into the contest through a strong forwards showing, and finally edged ahead when Italy conceded penalties in kickable positions. Farrell showed great accuracy from the kicking tee to convert two challenging three-pointers for a 6-0 lead.
The Azzurri then took a 12-6 half-time lead as two mistakes from fullback Ben Foden gifted wing Giovanbattista Venditti and outside centre Tommaso Benvenuti try-scoring opportunities. The first try came from poor English composure under the high ball as they couldn’t hang on to an attacking chip. Foden then spilled a second hack forward, which saw Venditti pounce. Moments later, a poor Foden offload was intercepted by Benvenuti, who had the pace to outsprint the covering defence.
Italy continued their impressive momentum after the restart, and a penalty from flyhalf Burton stretched their lead to nine points. However, Hodgson’s soft try and Farrell’s boot doused Italy’s fight as England clinched their second successive win of the tournament.
By Gareth Duncan