|Six Nations: England v Italy|
|England (5) 36|
|Tries: Cole, Care, Daly, Nowell (2), Te’o Con: Farrell 3|
|Italy (10) 15|
|Tries: Venditti, Campagnaro Con: Allan Drop goal: Allan|
England were given a huge scare by Italy before five second-half tries saw them extend their winning run to 17 matches.
Italy had led 10-5 at half-time, a combination of an extraordinary tactic at the breakdown and the hosts’ ineptitude threatening a huge upset at Twickenham.
But two quick tries after the break from Danny Care and Elliot Daly calmed nerves, and although Michele Campagnaro’s bullocking try made it 17-15 with 20 minutes remaining, another from Ben Te’o and two from replacement Jack Nowell saved England’s blushes.
Those tries meant Eddie Jones’ men also picked up their bonus point, which may prove critical in the final championship standings.
But this 10th successive Six Nations win felt anything but a celebration, Owen Farrell off form on the occasion of his 50th cap and Jones’ replacements once again required to come to their coach’s rescue.
Italy left points aplenty out on the field through missed kicks, and while a second consecutive Grand Slam remains a possibility for England, the visit of in-form Scotland in a fortnight’s time now represents a serious threat.
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Old game, new tactic
England had been completely thrown by Italy’s novel tactic of not committing any men to the breakdown beyond the initial tackler, meaning no ruck was formed and so the offside became irrelevant.
It meant Italian defenders could stand between England’s half-backs, creating initial confusion both in white-shirted ranks and in the stands.
Captain Dylan Hartley and James Haskell were both left asking referee Romain Poite to explain the laws of the game to them, the Frenchman testily telling them to ask their own coach.
And only when England began to solve that problem by putting runners up the middle did they begin to get any sort of grip on a contest they had been expected to run away with.
By the end, Jones’s men were also utilising the same ploy, a strange sight on the strangest of afternoons at Twickenham.
England stutter, Italy surprise
England were not so much slow out of the blocks as asleep, repeatedly giving away penalties at the scrum and breakdown, while Farrell, Care and George Ford all kicked poorly from hand.
Had Italy kicked all their penalties – Allan missed two, and the others were sent into the corner – they could have led 12-0 after the opening quarter.
Cole’s try from a rolling maul came as a relief to a somnolent crowd, but Italy continued to dominate possession and territory, even as they spurned further shots at the posts and failed to capitalise from their attacking line-outs.
But when Allan’s penalty from bang in front on the stroke of half-time came back off the upright, wing Giovanbattista Venditti grabbed the loose ball and dived over, Allan’s conversion making it 10-5.
Tries flow as England find a way
Jones had every reason to tear into his men at the interval, and within moments Care’s quick tap penalty sent him slicing through the blue wall and into the corner.
Daly then ran on to Te’o’s well-timed pass to go over in the left-hand corner, and the danger seemed over.
Yet with England spluttering again, Campagnaro ran through Ford and Mike Brown down the right to bring it back to 17-15.
A brilliant clearing kick by Carlo Canna denied Daly another, but from the subsequent line-out a driving maul sucked in the Italian defence and Nowell exploited vast open spaces on the right to dive into the corner.
Nowell then added another, punching through a weary defence, and relief mixed with the roars from the packed stands.
Man of the match
For the second match running it was Joe Launchbury who was offically seen as the standout performer, with the third most-carries (11), the second-most metres made (60) and the second-most lineouts won (2) on the victorious England side.
A special mention goes to Mike Brown, who made a total of 110 metres with ball in hand – 41 metres ahead of his closest competition in Italy’s Edoardo Padovani.
England head coach Eddie Jones: “Congratulations to Italy, strategically they were smart today, but it’s not rugby so let’s be serious about it, it’s not rugby today.
“I’m not happy what happened today, I don’t think that’s rugby. I played rugby a long time ago, I’ve coached rugby. I understand what Italy did and I’m not angry with what they did, but I just don’t think it’s rugby.”
Italy coach Conor O’Shea: “We have a massive job to do but we will do it and we have to think differently like we did today.
“We didn’t come here to make up numbers. But you’re playing against a brilliant team who are on-form and they worked their way through it.”
Paul Grayson, former England fly-half, on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra: “From an England point of view, today will feel like a loss. They were the opposite of what everyone expected.
“If they haven’t seen the ugly side of Eddie Jones yet, I’ve got a suspicion they’ll see it this week. He will have a problem with the team being nowhere near the levels he expects.
“You’ve got to give credit to Italy for their tactics, it certainly upset England, but they’ll be disappointed about conceding so many tries late on.”
England: Brown, May, Te’o, Farrell, Daly, Ford, Care, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Haskell, Hughes.
Replacements: Nowell for May (56), Slade for Te’o (76), Youngs for Care (52), M. Vunipola for Marler (56), George for Hartley (56), Sinckler for Cole (72).
Not Used: Wood, Clifford.
Italy: Padovani, Bisegni, Campagnaro, McLean, Venditti, Allan, Gori, Lovotti, Gega, Cittadini, Fuser, van Schalkwyk, Steyn, Favaro, Parisse.
Replacements: Benvenuti for Bisegni (52), Canna for Allan (62), Bronzini for Gori (36), D’Apice for Gega (65), Ceccarelli for Cittadini (52), Biagi for Fuser (75), Mbanda for Favaro (58).
Not Used: Rizzo.
Referee: Romain Poite (France).
|2 (1)||Scrums won (lost)||6 (1)|
|9 (0)||Line-outs won (lost)||13 (3)|
|99 (2)||Rucks/mauls won (lost)||87 (3)|
|35||Kicks from hand||33|
|107 (13)||Tackles made (missed)||130 (24)|