England stutter past Azzurri
England stutter past AzzurriSHARE
England continued their unbeaten run in the Six Nations but were far from convincing in their 18-11 victory over Italy at Twickenham on Sunday.
England scored more points than Italy, which means that in terms of the competition they won the match. Otherwise Italy were the winners.
For one thing they scored the only try, a splendid try. They had other opportunities to score, but then, in the first half, so did England.
Instead England had to rely on Toby Flood's unerring boot whereas Italy missed two kicks at goal. The surprise of the match was, even allowing for the wind, how much stronger Italy were in the second half and how their strength grew.
England enjoyed the rub of the Twickenham green. But after over 70% possession and a flood of penalties (10-2 in the half), scrum dominance, six line-outs to three, and a serious refereeing error in their favour, England led only 12-3 at the end of the half – four kicks to one.
Italy won the second half 8-6 but it was not enough to win the game. But then good teams win even when they are being outplayed.
The scrums were a mess. There were 16 in the match of which only two went the intended route of in and out without any interruptions in between. Five collapsed, eight were reset, five were penalised and three were free kicks. The scrums are not working and the recent changes have proved cosmetic, placebos but not curative. England had the better of the first-half's scrums, Italy the better of the second half scrums.
Martín Castrogiovanni was penalised at the very first scrum of the match and Flood goaled. 3-0 after three minutes.
Flood, as he did later as well, failed to find touch from a penalty but Mike Brown charged down Giovanbattista Venditti's attempted clearance but the ball skidded over the dead-ball line before Brown could score.
In this early part of the game England had nearly compete control. Italy tackled; England didn't have to.
England's next score – as indeed were all England's scores – was from a penalty when Alberto de Marchi was penalised at a tackle. 6-0 after 16 minutes.
Italy got briefly out of captivity and Tom Youngs was penalised for bringing down a maul. Flyhalf Luciano Orquera goaled. 6-3 after 17 minutes.
Italy had a great chance to score. Sergio Parisse peeled around the front of a line-out and fed inside to Alessandro Zanni. He ran down the right. He gave back towards Parisse, the ball went loose and, near the line, Edoardo Gori got it, but the referee blew for an Italian knock, much to Parisse's obvious chagrin.
The referee had a chat to his assistant who informed him that England had knocked the ball back and that Italy had not knocked on. But the scrum went ahead, and Italy were free-kicked for engaging too early and were warned that next time it would be a penalty.
England attacked and it seemed that they must score. Chris Ashton was on his way to the posts when somehow tall Joshua Furno caught him from behind. England went left and had a overlap of two but Flood chose to go to the line himself where Orquera held him up.
Castrogiovanni retired from the match with a sore knee.
Gori tried to kick out but Flood charged down the kick. Gori held onto Flood and was penalised and sent to the sin bin.
A penalty against Alberto de Marchi at a scrum made the score 9-3 after 37 minutes and then, the half done, Flood made it 12-3. The score was surprisingly low, given England's domination.
Four minutes into the second half De Marchi was penalised for taking out the jumper's support and Flood made it 15-3.
At a scrum Italy, with sudden power, shoved England away. England were penalised and Orquera made it 12-6.
Danny Care kicked a high and horrible kick that actually went backwards. Zanni caught the ball and it went back to Orquera who kicked a neat diagonal kick to his left where Luke McLean was unmarked and the wing scored in the corner. 15-11 after 59 minutes.
Venditti had an overlap and handed off Brown. Orquera missed a kick at goal but Flood kicked his sixth penalty. 18-11 after 62 minutes.
From now on Italy dominated. McLean had a good run down the left and then broke out of defence on a long run. Italy attacked with many phases and had an attacking line-out but Courtney Lawes won it.
Overall in the game possession was 50-50 and England were actually forced to make more tackles than the Italians did and missed more tackles than the Italians did but still held out to win the match, leaving them with only Wales blocking their way to a Grand Slam
Man of the match: Italy's energetic fullback Andrea Masi but there were great performances from Sergio Parisse, Alessandro Zanni and Luke McLean. The best of the England side was probably Mike Brown.
Moment of the match: Luke McLean's try.
Villian of the match: There was none.
Pens: Flood 6
Pens: Orquera 2
Yellow card: Edoardo Gori (Italy, 30)
England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Mike Brown,10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Wood, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 James Haskell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 David Wilson, 18 Joe Marler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Simone Favaro, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)