Italy 15-19 England, Six Nations
England rally to beat Italy
February 11, 2012
England fly-half Charlie Hodgson slides over to score in Rome
© Getty Images
England made it two wins from two in this year's Six Nations with a 19-15 victory over Italy in a wintry Rome on Saturday.
The hosts looked on course for a major upset after tries from Giovanbattista Venditti and Tommaso Benvenuti carried them to a 12-6 lead at the break but England rallied strongly in the second half with a try from fly-half Charlie Hodgson and some assured kicking from centre Owen Farrell turning the game in the visitors' favour. Italy still had chances to notch an historic triumph but some poor kicking from replacement playmaker Tobias Botes saw those hopes evaporate in the freezing cold.
England gave the ball width early on despite the snowy conditions that had engulfed the Italian capital ahead of kick off. No.8 Phil Dowson and lock Tom Palmer spearheaded a lively opening only for handling errors to let them down. Italy, looking for their first victory over England, weathered that early storm and offered some invention of their own but mistakes also plagued their best efforts.
Both sides favoured the high ball in the opening exchanges but a lack of quality failed to prise a significant opening. Italy enjoyed more success with ball in hand when Luke McLean exploited some space down the flank but as was so often the case in their defeat to France last weekend, it proved to be a fruitless raid.
The aerial ping-pong returned midway through a largely uninspiring half and while it was not pretty, it eventually brought England a good attacking platform inside the Italian half. The scrum led to a lineout but as England threatened inside the 22, centre Brad Barritt could not hold onto a pass from Hodgson.
An uncharacteristic wild pass from Italy's Sergio Parisse handed England arguably their best opportunity of the opening period. Winger David Strettle put a boot on the loose ball only to be taken out by Italy's Kris Burton as he attempted to chase down his own kick. An advantage may have seen Dowson credited with a try but referee Jerome Garces' decision to blow early meant that England had to settle for three points courtesy of Farrell.
Italy suffered a huge blow just past the half hour with the loss of prop Martin Castrogiovanni to what looked like a rib injury with Lorenzo Cittadini entering the fray but he could not prevent England turning the screw at the next scrum. Farrell stepped up and doubled his tally with a superb long range effort.
Italy's response was swift with some good hands from Parisse and a chip through from Burton causing carnage in the England defence. A horrible ricochet off Ben Youngs then cannoned off fullback Ben Foden before htting his scrum-half again and the ball then fell kindly for Venditti who gathered it to score the simplest of tries.
Burton hooked the conversions but they didn't dwell on the setback. Shortly after the kick off, Foden was under pressure again and an ill-advised off load in the tackle was snaffled by Benvenuti who raced away to score under the posts. Burton added the conversion on the stroke of half-time to give his side a surprising six-point cushion.
Italy looked to press home their advantage following the re-start with their forwards driving deep only for Burton to rush a drop goal attempt. But he would atone a few minutes later by slotting his second penalty after Parisse had been taken out by England flanker Tom Croft. But crucially it would be the Italian playmaker's last contribution before being replaced by Botes.
Needing to strike back, England did just that with Hodgson producing his second crucial charge down in successive weeks having crossed in the victory over Scotland in his side's opener. This time Italy's Andrea Masi was the man punished for not clearing his lines with Hodgson gleefully scooping up the ball before crossing for the try that was converted by Farrell.
England then injected some fresh legs in the form of scrum-half Lee Dickson and No.8 Ben Morgan with the duo bringing some much-needed urgency to proceedings. The changes soon brought reward where it matters most with Farrell landing his latest effort to give the visitors the lead once more. And things could have got a whole lot better for England soon after had Barritt's pass found Croft out wide after another telling raid deep into Italian territory.
There was no let-up with a crunching tackle from captain Chris Robshaw on his Italian counterpart Parisse earning his side an attacking scrum and when prop Andrew Lo Cicero was penalised for losing his binding, Farrell wasted little time in knocking over the kick to give his side a little more breathing room.
Botes was not so clinical from the kicking tee after his back-row earned a penalty a minute or so later but his team-mates refused to be downcast and simply doubled their efforts. A penalty against England winger Chris Ashton with a little over five minutes remaining handed Botes another chance to turn up the heat but his shocking effort was never in danger of troubling the posts and England were able to close out the win.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.