England 36-11 Italy, Six Nations Championship ,February 7
Bergamasco experiment gifts victory to England
Graham Jenkins
February 7, 2009

England got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start thanks to what proved to be a crazy decision by Italy coach Nick Mallett to select Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half.

The bold ploy of playing Bergamasco, a world-class flanker, at the crucial decision-making position of No.9 back-fired badly and the contest was all but over by the time his services were withdrawn at half-time. The decision to gamble was prompted by a string of injuries with Mallett claiming he had little option but it proved a costly mistake within minutes of the kick off.

The nightmare of wild passes and aimless running lasted for 40 minutes before Bergamasco's brief career at scrum-half was brought to a predictable end. Mallett put his hands up after the game to accept all blame but he will be hoping that Bergamasco's painful cameo does not have a detrimental effect on his usual impressive game.

England took control of the contest as Italy gifted countless opportunities and some how the hosts managed to register five tries on their way to a 36-11 victory. England fans will be happy to get back to winning ways but it is worth them remembering the victory was the result of a generous Italian display littered with errors and not a clinical performance from Martin Johnson's side.

Italy were disappointing to say the least and as a result the contest failed to live up to the billing and fans who stumped up can rightly feel cheated of a worthy contest. Credit to Italy for rallying in the second half but the damage was done. England were never tested to any kind of great measure and were able to coast to victory. But they will learn little from this game that will stand them in good stead for the rest of the Championship.

Johnson will be frustrated for several reasons with his side's lack of composure the main concern and their penalty tally another. This England side was not favoured to challenge for honours on the eve of this year's Championship and following their latest performance those predictions appear spot on.

James Haskell's foolish trip and the dangerous tackle by Shane Geraghty reduced the side to fourteen players on two separate occasions and not only underlined doubts about discipline but also put a stop to any grand tactical plan the side may have had. Six yellow cards in the last two fixtures is a worrying fact and on this occasion they were lucky not to be punished - not every side will be as forgiving as the Italians.

But there are positives to reflect on including the endeavour and skill shown by scrum-half Harry Ellis. He took his chance following Danny Care's injury and once again displayed his class. Alive to opportunities and keen to impress he did enough to insure the No.9 shirt will be his for the testing trip to Cardiff next weekend.

Andy Goode also did enough to justify his return from the international wilderness and played like a man full of confidence in his ability but his game did drop in the latter stages along with that of some of his team mates. Some similar wayward tactical kicking against Wales next weekend will come at a greater cost and he will have to make sure his radar is in fully working order if he is to hold off the challenge for his position from a fit-again Toby Flood and Danny Cipriani.

Many of England's side had a quiet day with wing Paul Sackey, so often England's most potent weapon, absent from the game - as was fullback Delon Armitage who looked disinterested at time but produced a couple of impressive breaks. The story was the same up front with England's forwards failing to boss the game.

Maybe the assessment of England's performance is a little harsh and perhaps the bar is set too high? A substantial win is a good way to start the Championship but everyone knows such a showing will not be good enough against an on-form Wales next weekend.

Johnson acknowledged his side's shortcomings after the game but time is not on their side. Wales pose a formidable threat and are likely to be favourites no matter what the result against the Scots on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Italy will have to re-group and restore some pride before they play host to Ireland next weekend when you can rest assured that Bergamasco will pack down at his more familiar position of flanker.

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