Six Nations: Unconvincing England beat Italy in Rome
Italy 12-17 England
England maintained their record of never having lost to Italy, but Martin Johnson’s men were far from convincing in Rome.
A second half try from Matthew Tait and 11 points from a largely anonymous Johnny Wilkinson secured a 17-12 win but the hosts will receive the plaudits for an unusually expansive performance which arguably deserved more.
England fans, buoyed by an encouraging performance against Wales last week, will lament the return of many of the plagues to have afflicted their game in recent years; lack of ambition, poor kicking from hand and lack of on-field leadership.
Tait’s try early in the second half looked to be the moment where the visitors finally took hold of a game which they had allowed to meander in the first half, twice going ahead through Wilkinson penalties, only for Marco Bergamasco to level.
Ugo Monye, arguably England’s most potent attacking force, broke down the left and kept his composure to find full-back Delon Armitage who in turn presented Tait with an easy run in.
Wilkinson, who kicked uncharacteristically poorly from the tee, missed the conversion but when Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovani was sin binned just shy of the hour for hands in the ruck the Toulon scrum-half took the lead to 14-6 with ten minutes of 14 men for England to face.
But the binning proved to be rather less costly for the Italians than it has been for other teams during this championship and by the time Castrogiavani returned to the fold, the momentum had shifted towards the Azzuri.
And when Bergamasco slotted his third penalty with 10 minutes to go and the Italians suddenly scented victory.
England were sufficiently concerned to slot a drop-goal on their next visit to the Italian 22 and, though Bergamasco made things uncomfortable shortly afterwards with a fourth penalty, the remaining three minutes failed to live up to the finale in Cardiff yesterday afternoon.
England remain one of only two teams who may still clinch a grand slam but their performance in a damp squib of a win which paled in comparison to the two matches on Saturday will leave innumerable question marks against Johnson’s men.