Planet Rugby

England deny heroic Azzurri

14th February 2010 15:25

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Riki Flutey Italy England

Roman Break: Riki Flutely probes a gap in the Italian lines

England made it two from two with a 17-12 win over Italy in Rome on Saturday, but the result can not disguise what was a massive backwards step for Martin Johnson's side.

It seldom happens in rugby, but the better team lost at the Stadio Flaminio.

With the visitors seemingly bereft of a gameplan and Jonny Wilkinson suffering a rare off-day with the boot, Italy sensed an upset and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Alas, the locals lacked the luck of the Welsh - that one killer break failed to materialise.

England seemed to be in two minds about what they were trying to do - put width on the ball or play it tight. In the end they did neither.

It was Italy who showed adventurous intent with ball in hand, and their bravery struck England dumb.

Johnson 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 and it was the Azzurri who were far more comfortable and had they sealed a first ever victory over England, Johnson could not have complained.

England spent long periods of the first half embroiled in turgid bouts of tactical kicking that was reflected in the 6-6 half-time score.

However, when England brought their strike runners into the game, they caused the Italian defence problems.

Riki Flutey 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 Delon Armitage.

The England full-back, so critical of his own performance last week, stabbed a grubber kick behind the defence but Italian scrum-half Tito Tebaldi slid in with a last-gasp clearance.

Craig Gower, the Italian fly-half and former Australia rugby league international, orchestrated a positive response and the Azzurri were one pass from scoring after Alessandro Zanni had claimed a cross-kick above Ugo Monye.

England moved up field and took the lead with a Wilkinson penalty after the Italian line-out, so poor against Ireland, malfunctioned again.

Bergamasco immediately levelled the scores after Nick Easter was penalised for not releasing.

The game was not much of a spectacle but when England did spot an opportunity they brought the likes of Armitage, Monye and Mark Cueto into the game far more than against Wales.

All three combined in a familiar England move, with Cueto bursting on to Armitage's inside ball, but Monye was stopped by an excellent cover-tackle from Gonzalo Garcia.

Wilkinson missed one long-range penalty attempt and then, inexplicably, booted a simple effort wide after another powerful run from Monye had put England on the front foot.

England were conceding too many penalties at the breakdown but they too escaped when Bergamasco's attempt from wide right drifted across the face of the posts.

Mathew Tait got himself involved for the first time after another dominant line-out take from Easter, attacking the blindside to link with Armitage and Dylan Hartley.

Italy scrambled well to halt the attack and then proved why they are considered one of the most formidable packs in the world game by shoving the England scrum back and winning the turnover and a penalty.

When Monye was penalised for being in front of the kicker, Gower pushed England back into their 22 and the Italians attacked from clean lineout ball.

Under pressure, England conceded another penalty in the shadow of the posts and Bergamasco made no mistake to put Italy 6-3 ahead.

England were still showing flashes of adventure and when Wilkinson launched a counter-attack from his own 22, Armitage sent Flutey clear on a 50-metre break.

Wilkinson levelled the scores just before the interval and England finally broke the back of the Italian defence early in the second half.

Monye skipped out of a tackle on halfway, shovelled the ball inside to Armitage who found Tait and the Sale centre raced clear to score the game's only try.

Wilkinson missed the conversion but extended England's lead to 14-6 with a penalty after Martin Castrogiovanni had been sin-binned for killing the ball.

Despite being a man down, Italy refused to concede defeat and Bergamasco struck back swiftly with another penalty after England were caught offside.

Lewis Moody escaped a yellow card for taking Luke McLean out in the air but England were under the cosh and conceded another penalty which allowed Bergamasco to bring Italy within two points.

But England had the last say, with Wilkinson slotting a drop-goal which sealed the ugly win.

Man of the match: Only one visitor covered himself in glory: Mark Cueto. The wing was assured in defence and ran some great lines in attack. Riki Flutey wins a mention in dispatches - he rustled by some sumptuous moments from just scraps. Italy were heroic to a man, which speedy recycling and impeccable hands springing from the collective. But it was the monumental effort of Alessandro Zanni that stood out. He almost made Sergio Parisse's absence bearable.

Moment of the match: Not much for posterity here. How about Jonny Wilkinson's miss in front of the sticks? It summed up England's day.

Villain of the match: Martin Castrogiovanni was the only man approaching villain status - or at least that what referee Christophe Berdos thought. We'll reserve judgement. Lewis Moody also ran into a little trouble with the ref - and the crowd - but we're not sure there was any malice in his challenge on Luke McLean. No award.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Pens: Mirco Bergamasco 4

For England:
Try: Tait
Pens: Wilkinson 3
Drop: Wilkinson

Yellow card(s): Castrogiovanni (Italy) - killing the ball, 57.

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Alessandro Zanni, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Josh Sole, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Valerio Bernabo, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Kaine Robertson.

England: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 James Haskell, 5 Steve Borthwick (capt), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Dan Cole , 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Matthew Mullan, 19 Louis Deacon, 20 Steffon Armitage, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Toby Flood.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Assessor: Dave Herbert (Wales)

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