Video: England avoid slip-up in Rome
Italy 15 England 19
Published 12/02/2012 | 05:00
It only seems to snow in Rome when England arrive for the Six Nations, as if their style of play so offends the gods they would rather not have to watch.
A Charlie Hodgson try proved enough for the second successive week, but they had to come back from a nine-point deficit in the second half and if they make as many mistakes in their next match, Wales will take some stopping.
The conditions were awful. Six centimetres of snow fell on Friday night and again four hours before the kick-off, forcing the ground staff to paint the white lines on the pitch red.
Snow ploughs were used to clear access roads outside the ground and snow-blowers were used on the surface, but it was largely white when the two teams took the field, camouflaging England. When a ball squirted out of an early ruck, Ben Youngs failed to notice it and Italy gained an unusual turnover.
There was no score for 26 minutes. As the temperature dropped, mistakes multiplied. Italy had not beaten England in 17 attempts, but there was a sense in the build-up that Stuart Lancaster's remodelled side offered an unrivalled opportunity.
Italy's national anthem was given a stirring rendition, over-enthusing Andrea Lo Cicero who conceded a rash penalty in the visiting 22 from the kick-off.
England moved the ball more than they had at Murrayfield, not least because they saw more of it, but their movement was largely lateral. When the line was straightened, possession was often coughed up and Italy's attacks came to a similar end.
The opening period was confined to skirmishing: England had an early raid after Mouritz Botha and Tom Palmer had led a forward drive, but when Dylan Hartley appeared at outside-centre, he showed his lack of familiarity with the position by throwing a pass that Tom Croft could only knock on.
Italy's first opportunity came when Luke McLean found space on the left wing and fed his full-back, Andrea Masi, but Youngs was back to cover.
Kris Burton was attacking the line from outside-half, but his play was erratic -- he missed penalty kicks to touch and went for unlikely drop-goals and he was hauled off six minutes into the second period, much to his disgust, after kicking a penalty to put his side 15-6 ahead.
The general standard was mediocre but the Italy No 8, Sergio Parisse, rose above it all with his anticipation and composure in possession.
However, his first mistake led to the opening score of the game. He passed back expecting to find Masi, but the full-back had moved towards the wing. The ball then fell loose and David Strettle hacked on 35 metres from Italy's line only to be denied by a bodycheck from Burton.
The referee Jerome Garces spotted the offence but did not reward Burton with a yellow card, nor did he show yellow to Croft for the same cynical act on Parisse early in the second-half.
Owen Farrell was on target from 45 metres, as he was four minutes before the interval after Italy had infringed at the first scrum awarded after Martin Castrogiovanni had left the field with damaged ribs.
The six-point lead looked just about right, partly because Italy's attacking play was so fragmented, but it was the Azzurri who went into the interval ahead after two mistakes by Ben Foden in as many minutes.
First, after Youngs had saved a try with a precision tackle on Gonzalo Canale, the ball ricocheted off the scrum-half's boot.
Foden, taken by surprise, dropped it and all the wing Giovanbattista Venditti had to do was touch the ball down over the line. That should have been the end of the period, but Burton failed to find touch from the restart with the countdown clock on zero and England ran the ball back from halfway.
Foden, checked by Alessandro Zanni, looped an outside pass that was easily intercepted by Tommaso Benvenuti, who ran 55 metres to score under the posts and give his side a 12-6 interval lead that was increased by three when Croft fouled Parisse, whose chip had been precise.
It would be stretching it to say that Croft denied a try-scoring opportunity, but Parisse was left with a knee injury that hampered him for the rest of the game.
At the moment they looked in control, Italy allowed England back. Hodgson scored his side's only try against Scotland last week with a chargedown try and when Masi tried to kick to touch near his own line on the diagonal, the Saracens outside-half sensed another opportunity and, again, the bounce went his way.
Farrell's conversion put England within two points and within four minutes they had regained the lead, energised by two substitutions, Lee Dickson for Youngs and Ben Morgan at No 8 for Phil Dowson, the former lifting the pace of the game and the latter doing a more than passable impression of Parisse, whose waning influence was summed up when he spilled the ball in a challenge by Farrell.
Italy's changes had the opposite effect, especially the outside-half Tobie Botes, whose goal-kicking contrasted with that of the unerring Farrell. He had two medium-range efforts in the final quarter, neither of which had the distance, let alone the direction.
England's defence was vulnerable only when Parisse had possession and as they closed in on victory, the gods gave their verdict, snow falling on oaks.
Scorers -- Italy: G Venditti, T Benvenuti try each; K Burton pen, con England: C Hodgson try, O Farrell 4 pens, con.
Italy: A Masi, G Venditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale (Morisi 63), L McLean, K Burton, E Gori (Semenzato 57); A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini (D'Apice 58), M Castrogiovanni, Q Geldenhuys (Pavanello 58), M Bortolami, A Zanni, R Barbieri (Bergamasco 76), S Parisse (capt).
England: B Foden, C Ashton, B Barritt, O Farrell, D Strettle, C Hodgson, B Youngs (Dickson 58); A Corbisiero, D Cole (Webber 75), D Hartley (Stevens 75), M Botha, T Palmer (Parling 51), T Croft, C Robshaw (capt), P Dowson (Morgan 51).
Referee: J Garces (France).
Sunday Indo Sport