Six Nations

England keep Grand Slam dream alive after Italy scare

2017-02-26 19:36
Jack Nowell (Getty Images)

Twickenham - England kept their hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams alive with a 36-15 victory over Italy at Twickenham on Sunday but only after being given a massive scare by the game Azzurri.

In a week where Italy's place in the Six Nations had been repeatedly called into question following their 63-10 thrashing by Ireland last time out, they defied all pre-match predictions to lead 10-5 at half-time.

And even when England recovered to go 17-10 up early in the second half, Italy centre Michele Campagnaro's try on the hour mark cut the hosts' advantage to 17-15.

Had Italy, who saw fly-half Tommaso Allan miss three penalties and fullback Edoaardo Padovanni be off target with a conversion, landed all their goalkicks they might even have been celebrating a famous win.

Instead England recorded their 23rd victory in as many Tests against Italy, but only after two late tries from replacement back Jack Nowell and one from centre Ben Te'o finally put the result beyond doubt.

The win was also England's 17th in a row - just one shy of New Zealand's all-time record for a tier one nation of 18 successive Test victories.

England found themselves frustrated at the ruck and captain Dylan Hartley told ITV: "We're full of respect for them today and they proved very difficult to break down.

"We wanted to play quicker down at the ruck. I was confused by it. The guys adapted well, we took the game line. We found a way.

"Their mauling threat is huge and we conceded way too many penalties."

Italy kept the game scoreless until the 24th minute when England prop Dan Cole was driven over for an unconverted try.

But Allan, who had missed two earlier penalty attempts, cut the deficit with a well-taken drop-goal in the 33rd minute.

England, who had been massive odds-on favourites at 1/150 with some bookmakers before kick-off, astonishingly found themselves behind on the stroke of half-time.

An Allan penalty came back off the post and wing Giovanbattista Venditti was first to the loose ball for a try that stunned Twickenham.

Allan converted and Italy turned round five points in front.

ENGLAND SCORE QUICK BRACE

But two tries in three minutes early in the second half from Danny Care and Elliot Daly, the latter converted by Owen Farrell, saw England into a 17-10 lead.

Yet they still could not put Italy away.

The opening quarter ended with the game still scoreless as Italy, coached by former Ireland fullback Conor O'Shea, frustrated the home side.

Hartley repeatedly asked for clarification from referee Romain Poite over what he would allow at the ruck, only for the French official to reply "I am not a coach".

England, unlike Italy however, did make the most of their first clear chance, with Cole bundled over from a catch and drive.

Farrell sliced his conversion but England were 5-0 up.

Italy's territorial pressure was eventually rewarded when Allan landed a 20-metre drop-goal to cut England's lead to 5-3 before wing Venditti's opportunist try stunned Twickenham.

England, however, regained the initiative with two tries in a matter of the minutes at the start of the second half.

Care, in a move all too familiar to O'Shea, who coached him at London club Harlequins, then caught the Italian defence napping with a try off a quick tap penalty.

Farrell's missed conversion left the scores tied at 10-10 but it was not long before England were in front.

The hosts won a penalty from the restart, Farrell, on the occasion of his 50th cap, clearing to halfway.

England won the line-out and, after Maro Itoje fed James Haskell, the ball was spread and wing Daly, whose late try saw England come from behind to beat Wales, went over.

This time Farrell added the extras and England had breathing space at 17-10 up.

Italy though were far from finished with Campagnaro, who plays his club rugby in England for Exeter, brushing past fly-half George Ford and weaving past fullback Mike Brown for a fine try.

Padovanni failed with the conversion but England's lead had been cut to just two points.

The normally reliable Farrell then missed another penalty before Nowell, either side of Te'o's score, crossed twice against a tiring defence.

Full result of the Six Nations international between England and Italy at Twickenham on Sunday:

England 36-15 Italy

Scorers:

England

Tries - Cole (24), Care (44), Daly (47), Nowell (70, 80), Te'o (73);

Conversions - Farrell (47, 73, 80)

Italy

Tries - Venditti (40), Campagnaro (60);

Conversion - Allan (40); Drop Goal - Allan (33)

Read more on:    six nations  |  rugby
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