Friday 19 January 2018

Chariot pulls up just short

Italy 11 England 52

Ben Morgan of England is tackled by Joshua Furno of Italy during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at Stadio Olimpico
Ben Morgan of England is tackled by Joshua Furno of Italy during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at Stadio Olimpico
Mike Brown of England scores his first try during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico
Owen Farrell of England goes over to score a try during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico

Paul Rees at Stadio Olimpico

England had the match won long before the end of the first half, but having needed a victory by a record margin in Italy – to force Ireland not just to win in Paris to claim the title, but do so by a certain number of points – they fell short after giving away a late try.

They roamed in the Rome sunshine from the first minute, but even in perfect conditions and against opponents whose form has deteriorated every match since the start of the tournament, they made too many mistakes trying to force the game in unlikely positions.

Mike Brown scored two of their seven tries, but the game became too unstructured. It was, though, only 11 minutes from the end – when England conceded a try, attempting to break out from their own 22 – that the points' dream faded. On any other day, it would have been a victory to salivate over, but it meant nothing after Ireland's heroics in Paris.

It was never just a question for England of scoring at least 50 points: they had to win by that margin having never done so in Rome before, and the more they unshackled caution in attack, the more they left themselves open to a breakaway. England ran the ball from everywhere against opponents virtually guaranteed to regain the wooden spoon. Their first try, on 11 minutes, came after Courtney Lawes stole a lineout inside his own half and, after Brown had got over the gainline, Luther Burrell's half-break and pass gave the full-back the room to sprint away from Luke McLean.

The home side struggled to hold on to the ball and conceded two tries in the final nine minutes of the half. Burrell was making an impact in the midfield, and although one attack was squandered when Dylan Hartley and Mako Vunipola found themselves the overlap on the left wing, they won a penalty, opted for a lineout, and Farrell scored after a dummy and a jink.

Ben Morgan and Vunipola had helped set up the try but England's third was soft. Tito Tebaldi, under no pressure, kicked the ball out on the full.

Lawes again won the lineout and, while Farrell looked to have worked a loop move from too deep a position, Brown's capacity to break through the first tackle earned him his fourth try of the tournament and a 24-6 interval lead for his team. England's biggest win in Rome, 59-12 in 2000, was in range, but the visitors needed more and their lead should have been cut 100 seconds into the second period when Burrell failed with an ankle tap on Michele Campagnaro and the centre – instead of drawing Brown and chipping into the empty lot that was the England 22 – threw a forward pass to Angelo Esposito outside him.

The only area Italy were troubling England was up front, but when they took off their two props, six minutes into the second period, they first lost the heel. They were penalised in their own 22 at the set piece and lost Marco Bortolami to the sin-bin after Burrell was denied. From the next scrum Danny Care and Farrell had so much time to execute a move that resulted in Jack Nowell coming into the midfield that the wing scored his first try in international rugby, and indeed of the season, with such ease it may as well have been a training drill.

England's battle was now with the clock, not Italy. It was Barbarian rugby in the last 20 minutes, with Nowell and Brown combining for substitute Manu Tuilagi to break his first tackle, and England's fifth try arrived when Billy Twelvetrees found space and all Vunipola had to do to score was catch the ball. Tuilagi made it six on 67 minutes, breaking half-hearted tackles by Tommaso Allan and Leonardo Sarto. Two more tries – and a conversion – would have left Ireland with having to do more than simply win in Paris. Within a minute of the restart, Joe Launchbury's pass at the back of his hand found Sarto, 25 metres out, and the wing knew what to do.

Farrell was perhaps fortunate not to see yellow for a tackle on Edoardo Gori off the ball and the heat started to get to a few heads before George Ford made his first telling contribution in Test rugby, sidestepping defenders and creating a try for Chris Robshaw with the last move of the game.

England had two missions in Rome: win the match, and take aim at overturning Ireland's points difference of +81. England started on +32 and gave it a good go until the setback of Sarto's late try.


Scorers – Italy: L Sarto try, L Orquera 2 pens. England: M Brown 2 tries, O Farrell try, 7 cons, pen, J Nowell, M Vunipola, M Tuilagi, C Robshaw try each.

Italy: L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Masi 72), L Sarto; L Orquera (T Allan 42), T Tebaldi (E Gori 66); M Aguero (D Giazzon 47), L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini (A de Marchi 47); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami; J Furno, R Barbieri, S Parisse (captain).

England: M Brown; J Nowell, L Burrell (M Tuilagi 54), B Twelvetrees (G Ford 71), J May; O Farrell, D Care (L Dickson 67); M Vunipola (M Mullan 76), D Hartley (T Youngs 54), D Wilson (H Thomas 71); J Launchbury (D Attwood 71), C Lawes; T Wood (T Johnson 67), C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan.

Referee: P Gauzere (FFR)

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