By Sarah Mockford at Twickenham
In a nutshell
The Grand Slam is still within England’s reach, but they are stuttering rather than marching towards it. Stuart Lancaster’s side had several chances to score tries in the first half but continually failed to make the right decision – not spotting overlaps or support players, thinking they could score easily. Instead, it was the Italians – physical, intense and focused throughout – who showed how simple it was to score. A cross-field kick was collected by Luke McLean and over he went in the 50th minute. After that, it was the visitors who showed more attacking intent and England spent much of the second half defending. On to Cardiff Chris Robshaw & Co go – but big improvements are needed, particularly in terms of creativity and composure, if they are to complete England’s first Slam since 2003.
Italy had a lineout ten metres from the England line with just three minutes to go and were in fine fettle having got close to scoring a second try just moments before. In stepped England replacement Courtney Lawes to steal the lineout. England cleared and were able to close out a narrow win.
Star man – Sergio Parisse
The Italy No 8 was as imperious as ever. He’s one of those players who has an aura and his return brought an obvious boost to Italy. Not only does he fulfill the traditional No 8 brief of ball-carrying and tackling but he also has a flair to his game, throwing in flicks and linking supremely well with fellow back-row Alessandro Zanni.
Lions watch – Hot
Joe Launchbury – Played the full 80 minutes despite picking up what looked like a painful injury midway through the second half. Put in another solid shift in defence and is happy to put in the hard graft.
Toby Flood – Immaculate with the kicking tee but out of hand he struggled. He missed touch twice with penalties and his up-and-unders were too shallow to be effective. Struggled to get England’s attacking game firing, particularly in the second half.
Chris Ashton – Eager to get involved and good support play in the first half, but the wing has lost his scoring touch and was often caught out defensively. Needs a big performance against Lions rivals George North and Alex Cuthbert in Cardiff.
England failed to score a try in a home Six Nations game for only the second time in 34 matches – last year’s defeat by Wales the other.
England made 134 tackles to Italy’s 105, showing the pressure they were put under in the second half, and Joe Launchbury was the game’s top tackler with 16.
Luke McLean was the top metre maker, with 99. England’s best was Mike Brown, with 51.
England – Pens: Flood 6.
Italy – Try: McLean. Pens: Orquera 2.Like Rugby World? Subscribe to the magazine for the latest comprehensive content.