x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

England are unconvincing in win over Italy

Steve Borthwick admits his side did not capitalise on chances to finish game early against Italy, but he remains pleased with the victory.

England's Riki Flutey tries to find a way through the Italian defence in Rome.
England's Riki Flutey tries to find a way through the Italian defence in Rome.

ROME // England were made to work hard in grinding out a 17-12 victory over Italy at the Stadio Flaminio last night, but Steve Borthwick, their captain, said his side's performance had been better than the scoreline suggested. England had opened their campaign with an encouraging win over Wales at Twickenham, but they were pushed all the way by a dogged Italian side.

"We did some fantastic stuff and made chances but we didn't take them," said Borthwick. "Credit to Italy for how they played they were very tough and resilient. Some of the aspects of the game we did very well in with Delon Armitage, Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye in the wide channels making some breaks, and Matt Mullan came on for his first cap and did well. "There are a lot of positives for us to take from the game."

Few who watched this match will be convinced England stand any chance at all of lifting the championship title after an unconvincing performance. Mathew Tait's try shortly after half-time illuminated an otherwise turgid clash and ultimately proved the difference. Jonny Wilkinson had an off-day with the boot but he landed three penalties and a late drop-goal which finally killed off a spirited Italian rally.

The Azzurri had trailed 14-6 but pushed England to the brink with four penalties from Mirco Bergamasco. Martin Johnson, the coach, had spent all week warning his team they would have to be patient, that if there is one thing the Italians do well it is to drag their opponents into an arm-wrestle. That is exactly what happened for long periods. It was the Azzurri who were far more comfortable and had they sealed a first victory over England, Johnson could not have complained.

The hosts defended and spoiled well throughout and had the former world champions under pressure in the closing stages, but never really threatened to cross the tryline. When England brought their strike runners into the game, they caused the Italian defence problems. Riki Flutey in particular made an immediate impact on his return to the team at inside centre, sparking a first minute attack which almost led to a try for Armitage.

The England full-back, so critical of his own performance last week, stabbed a grubber kick behind the defence but Tito Tebaldi, the Italy scrum-half slid in with a last-gasp clearance. The game was not much of a spectacle but when England did spot an opportunity they brought the likes of Armitage, Monye and Cueto into the game far more than they did against Wales last weekend. Italy went down to 14 men for some of the closing stages when Martin Castrogiovanni was sin-binned, but the match was in truth already over before Wilkinson's late drop goal ended their hopes for good.

* PA Sport