Ball In Touch: England travelled to a snowy Rome as Italy looked to win for the first time in 18 attempts against the English. Let us know what you thought of the game or anything else either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch and remember to use our handy beginners A-Z guide to rugby, here.
England 2.0’s journey continued in deepest Rome as they came back from behind against Italy on a patchwork quilt of a pitch, as evidence of heavy snows across Europe remained across two thirds of the field.
The cold was no hardship for the home fans filling the Stadio Olimpico. England seemed keen to attack after having seemingly spent 80 minutes defending in Edinburgh last week, a promising early drive failing at the hands of some forwards hanging out on the wing.
Neither side was in any mood to spend too much time standing still, but a few fumbles and missed passes provided unwanted pauses to the action. As both sides warmed up, Italy made a series of tactical kicks to push England into their own half. In fact it was Italy that were looking the more threatening, Kris Burton and Luke McClean combining well before another clumsy pass halted any progress.
England struggled with early high balls and lineouts as Italy looked to profit from errors. The forward battle was predictably intense and Italy neutralised the threat out wide for most of the first half.
When Parisse passed to no-one though, a trip on Strettle meant Owen Farrell kicked three points, but Phil Dowson was denied a try by the referee’s whistle, having brought play back after Strettle’s kick through had been grounded when advantage was been halted.
Cittadini replaced Castrogiovanni who suffered a rib injury and the loss was felt straight away, England popping the Italian scrums up meaning Owen Farrell doubled his tally from distance with the penalty.
The response from Italy was instantaneous. Using their forwards to pick and go, twice England failed to deal with a low kick through, the second bouncing off Bed Foden’s chest into the arms of Venditti to score a try. Kris Burton pushed the kick across the posts with the half time beckoning.
With seconds to go, Ben Foden’s afternoon got even worse, his offload out of a tackle snatched from Charlie Hodgson by the fingers of Benvenuti to run in from half way and score, Burton making no mistake this time with his kick to take the score to 12-6 to the hosts.
England re-emerged from the tunnel with a bit more urgency but continued to be forced into conceding errors. The referee was moved to speak to England about their discipline, Parisse making the most of a nudge by Tom Croft as he chased his own kick and giving Burton the chance to make the score 15-6 with his last action of the day as he was replaced by Botes.
Several pokes at the defence proved fruitless but sighs turned to cheers as Charlie Hodgson for the second week scored from a charged down kick, throwing the ball into the crowd in excitement. The bandaged Farrell ignored the boos to slot the extras to close the gap to two points.
Dickson and Morgan came on for Youngs and Dowson as England looked to build some momentum. Instantly there was more energy in England’s play and Dickson won a penalty by throwing a pass against a slow retreating Italian. Farrell didn’t miss this one either as England took the lead again.
England continued to grow into the game, a sustained period of possession seeing play creep up to Italy’s 22m line. However the Italians weren’t having any of it, making life very hard at the breakdown and continuing to frustate. Brad Barritt was denied a try from, you guessed it, another charge down, this time well after the referee had blown for an infringement.
Geoff Parling was another substitute to make his presence felt, helping his side to another penalty at a scrum as Farrell started to stretch the lead as the snow started to fall. Parling quickly became the villain from the restart, adjudged of being guilty of holding on as England failed to deal with the short kick. The penalty attempt thankfully went comically wide.
Italians efforts became more frantic as England looked to consolidate their four point lead. A cynical push on Tobias Botes after he had kicked through meant Chris Ashton had an anxious wait while the referee conferred with his assistant, but a penalty was deemed sufficient punishment. With ten minutes remaining Botes again horribly skewed his kick, taking his tally of missed points to six.
Mauro Bergamasco entered the fray with five minutes to go as the PA announcer tried desperately to gee the frozen crowd up. Italy’s legendary backrower had little to do than watch a series of scrums collapse and minutes passed with England quite content to bore the noisy support.
The final efforts of the Azzuri came to naught, a run down the blindside failing to come off and England cleared the ball to touch and recorded their second victory of the tournament.
Gasps of relief would have been heard from the England coach’s box as yet another ugly effort resulted in an ugly England win. Italy were unlucky not to win with the two laughable penalty efforts of Tobias Botes proving decisive in the end.
For the second week in a row there was a lack of cutting edge in the England attack, but the defence proved more than solid. Territory and possession were better but again the try came from a charge down with no other notable try scoring chances created.
The mixture of a half time chat and the introduction of Ben Morgan and Lee Dickson provided some energy to the side and both players should start against Wales. Similarly Geoff Parling will be looking to start and Toby Flood should be back on the bench to give England an option to try if Charlie Hodgson fails to energise his backline in the next match.
Italy will be frustrated not to have won and were a constant thorn at the breakdown. The substitution of Burton proved key as his slightly more reliable boot was missed late on, whilst their tries came from good pressure but not attacking creativity, although the effort was there. Parisse continued to show his class and the forward effort was immense as always.
Wales will be relishing their next match against the English, any breaches of the defence should prove effective as England are yet to find the ability to score the tries that will be undoubtedly needed, again relying on the boot of Farrell and Charge Down Charlie. Lancaster made no changes today on the argument that stability and continuity was needed. For Wales, some minor tweaking will be necessary as although it is another win, England are still to find the higher gears.
ITALY (12) 15
Tries: Venditti, Benvenuti Con: Burton Pen: Burton
ENGLAND (6) 19
Tries: Hodgson Cons: Farrell Pens: Farrell 4
Italy: 15-Andrea Masi, 14-Giovanbattista Venditti, 13-Tommaso Benvenuti, 12-Gonzalo Canale, 11-Luke McLean, 10-Kris Burton, 9-Edoardo Gori; 1-Andrea Lo Cicero, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 4-Quintin Geldenhuys, 5-Marco Bortolami, 6-Alessandro Zanni, 7-Robert Barbieri, 8-Sergio Parisse (capt) Replacements: 16-Tommaso D’Apice, 17-Lorenzo Cittadini, 18-Antonio Pavanello, 19-Mauro Bergamasco, 20-Fabio Semenzato, 21-Tobias Botes, 22-Luca Morisi
England: 15-Ben Foden, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Brad Barritt, 12-Owen Farrell, 11-David Strettle, 10-Charlie Hodgson, 9-Ben Youngs; 1-Alex Corbisiero, 2-Dan Cole, 3-Dylan Hartley, 4-Mouritz Botha, 5-Tom Palmer, 6-Tom Croft , 7-Chris Robshaw (capt), 8-Phil Dowson Replacements: 16-Rob Webber, 17-Matt Stevens, 18-Geoff Parling, 19-Ben Morgan, 20-Lee Dickson, 21-Jordan Turner-Hall, 22-Mike Brown
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