England 18 Italy 11: Flood edges Lancaster’s men to victory
England 18 Italy 11: Stuart Lancaster's men keep their Grand Slam hopes alive with victory over a battling Italian side at Twickenham
England had to rely on Toby Flood’s accuracy from the tee to squeeze past a spirited Italy side, prevailing 18-11 at Twickenham to keep their Six Nations Grand Slam hopes alive.
Flood kicked six penalties as England, for all their endeavour, ended the match with no tries and their backs to the wall with Italy impressive to the end.
The visitors, with the outstanding Sergio Parisse back at the helm, rekindled the form that saw them down France in their first match of the Championship and scored the only try of the match through Luke McLean.
Trailing 12-3 at half-time and 15-3 soon after, Italy roared back and after a Luciano Orquera penalty, McLean struck to bring the Azzurri to within four.
Orquera crucially missed the conversion however and a subsequent penalty – kicks that would have put Italy into the lead had he been successful – and Flood was able to kick England clear of danger.
England began at a ferocious tempo, penning Italy back in their own half in the opening stages but there was no early barrage of tries from the Grand Slam-chasing side.
As they have done in their previous three matches, England went ahead with an early penalty, the Red Rose pack laying down an early marker at the scrum, leaving referee George Clancy with no option but to blow his whistle.
Flood made no mistake from a fair distance on the left and then just two minutes later England again signalled their intent – kicking for the corner after Italy came in off their feet rather than going for the posts.
Flood missed touch however but Mike Brown charged down Giovanbattista Venditti’s clearing kick and desperately tried in vain to catch the ball before it went dead.
Italy were on the back foot but defending valiantly – captain Parisse showing his worth with a fine turnover as England found the Azzurri’s line difficult to breach.
England’s pressure was causing Italy to concede penalties and Flood doubled England’s advantage from in front of the posts on 15 minutes but Italy swiftly responded as Orquera slotted a three-pointer after Tom Youngs brought down a maul.
That stirred Italy and flanker Alessandro Zanni made a storming break down field after a fine pass from the outstanding Parisse, who just failed to gather the return pass with the try-line beckoning.
It was then England’s turn to threaten, Chris Ashton coming off his right wing and bursting through the middle of the field before the wall was worked to Flood, who was held up over the try-line with plenty of numbers on the outside.
Italy were then dealt a major blow when prop Martin Castrogiovanni, winning his 95th cap, hobbled off with a thigh problem and two minutes later they were reduced to 14 men when scrum-half Edoardo Gori was sent to the sin bin after deliberately obstructing Flood.
Still England could not break down the Italian defence however, which coped admirably with their numerical disadvantage until Flood was handed another chance to add to the lead from the tee, and promptly bisected the posts.
England finally began to flow at the end of the half after a fine run inside from Mike Brown but was the ball was worked to the right, Geoff Parling fielded the ball with his foot in touch.
Clancy was playing advantage however and Flood notched his fourth penalty of the match to send England 12-3 ahead at the interval.
Soon after the break England extended their lead further when Flood was again on target from the tee after Italy prop Alberto de Marchi was penalised for tackling the man without the ball.
But the expected deluge did not come and it was Italy who worked their way back into the match – firstly doubling their tally through an Orquera penalty after a powerful scrum.
And on 49 minutes the visitors grabbed the first try of the match, capitalising on a sliced kick from Danny Care from an England lineout.
Winning the ball back, Orquera chipped to the left-hand corner and there was Luke McLean to gather the ball and dot down unopposed.
Orquera missed the conversion but England were rattled and Venditti made a strong burst down the right which resulted in an Italy penalty, only the Azzurri’s fly-half to push his effort wide to the right.
After a raft of replacements, England began to regain their authority on the match and enjoyed an extended spell in the Italian 22 which resulted in a penalty, Flood making no mistake from in front of the posts on 62 minutes.
Back came Italy again though and they forced England into some resolute defending before McLean’s grubber kick spun out of play with Venditti ready to pounce.
McLean then streaked down the blindside with England beginning to get nervous, only for Italy to creep into touch and alleviate the mounting pressure on the hosts.
Italy cranked the pressure up even further and they were camped on the England try-line, Venditti almost burrowing a way through, but the hosts held out to seal the victory.
As a result, England will now head to Cardiff next week in pursuit of a first Six Nations Grand Slam for ten years but a Wales win at Millennium Stadium by eight points or more would see them defend their title.
Should Wales win by seven points, they would still clinch the title, provided their try count remains more than England’s.