By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
It was ‘Chargedown Charlie’ to the rescue again for England. Italy scored two tries in two minutes just before half-time to take a 12-6 lead in Rome; Giovanbattista Venditti touched down in the corner after a ricochet from a kick wrong-footed England’s defence and Tommaso Benvenuti crossed under the posts after intercepting a Ben Foden pass. After the break, Charlie Hodgson charged down an Andrea Masi kick and Owen Farrell’s conversion and two penalties secured a narrow win for England.
Tommaso Benvenuti’s try in the final minute of the first half brought the loudest cheer from those who’d managed to brave the snow at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Ben Foden threw a risky offload, Benvenuti intercepted and then sprinted clear to score under the posts. It gave Italy a 12-6 lead at half-time – and helped focus English minds.
Star man – Owen Farrell
Sergio Parisse was the official Man of the Match and he is undoubtedly a class player, but England’s young centre yet again produced a performance that belies his years. Farrell is committed in defence and slotted all five of his kicks despite considerable pressure in the second half, even managing a chuckle before one shot, and that composure bodes well for the future. He just needs to get his hands on the ball more.
Special mention must also go to the ground staff for clearing the snow (most of it anyway) and making sure the game went ahead.
Room for improvement
England still didn’t create any try-scoring opportunities and need to show more control and precision with ball in hand – they can’t rely on Charlie Hodgson to charge down kicks in every game! Lee Dickson and Ben Morgan both brought more spark to England’s attack when brought on for Ben Youngs and Phil Dowson respectively – and both presented good cases to start against Wales at Twickenham.
They showed great composure to get back into the game and the scrum held up well, but their lineout creaked a few times too many.
As ever, Italy were competitive at the breakdown, but the same-old problems remain: a lack of creativity in the backs. And the decision to take off Kris Burton cost them in the second half as replacement Tobias Botes missed two penalties.
In quotes – winners
Owen Farrell: “It was a case of keep doing what we’re doing and don’t chase the game. It was more through our mistakes that their tries had come and we still felt we were on top in the first half. Credit to the boys, we dug in and got the win.
Owen Farrell had a 100% record from the kicking tee but Italy’s kickers fared worse, slotting only 40% of their shots at goal. Kris Burton failed with a conversion and Tobias Botes’s two penalty attempts were badly missed.
England made three line breaks compared to one by Italy, but the Azzurri made 373 metres with the ball compared to England’s 224.
Chris Robshaw made 17 tackles – more than double any of his team-mates – and didn’t miss one.
Italy: Andrea Masi; Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Gonzalo Canale (Luca Morisi 63), Luke McLean; Kris Burton (Tobias Botes 47), Edoardo Gori (Fabio Semenzato 57); Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini (Tommaso D’Apice 58), Martin Castrogiovanni (Lorenzo Cittadini 33), Quintin Geldenhuys (Antonio Pavanello 57), Marco Bortolami, Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri (Mauro Bergamasco 76), Sergio Parisse (capt).
Tries: Venditti, Benvenuti.
England: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, David Strettle; Charlie Hodgson (Jordan Turner-Hall 77), Ben Youngs (Lee Dickson 51); Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley (Rob Webber 75), Dan Cole (Matt Stevens 75), Mouritz Botha, Tom Palmer (Geoff Parling 58), Tom Croft , Chris Robshaw (capt), Phil Dowson (Ben Morgan 51).
Pens: Farrell 4.