Six Nations: Italy 15-19 England

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer, BBC Sport, in Rome

England's new-look side wriggled off the hook with an impressive second-half comeback to deny Italy's Azzurri their first ever victory over the red rose.

Two tries in two minutes from Giovanbattista Venditti and Tomasso Benvenuti, courtesy of England errors, had gifted Italy a 15-6 lead and threatened to make Six Nations history.

But a second charge-down try in eight days from Charlie Hodgson and four penalties from the nerveless Owen Farrell dragged Stuart Lancaster's men back from the brink.

England's resolve under pressure belied their inexperience, and means Lancaster's quiet revolution has now begun with successive away wins.

Heavy snowfall all afternoon had put the game at risk, and vast swathes of the pitch were still covered in snow throughout the match.

With 698 caps in their line-up to England's 248 this was Italy's best chance yet to claim a first win in the fixture in their first Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico, and at times the game looked theirs for the taking.

The difficult conditions should have indicated a cautious start, but England were putting the ball through hands from the start as Phil Dowson and Tom Palmer both made inroads into the thin blue line.

Only when frozen fingers led to a rash of handling errors did caution creep in, both sides resorting to garryowens and kicks into the corners to play for territory.

Luke McLean found space to escape down the left touchline before feeding Andrea Masi inside him, Ben Youngs racing back to make a try-saving tackle on his own 22, before Sergio Parisse knocked on after taking quick ball from the subsequent ruck.

When England's forwards made advances of their own, Brad Barritt then did the same, but an error from Parisse sparked a moribund contest into life.

Italy's captain flung the ball back behind his receivers and David Strettle was on it in a flash to hack on, only for Kris Burton to run across his heels and appear to trip him, accidentally or otherwise.

Farrell then clattered the covering defender and when the ball went loose over the Italian try-line, Dowson raced on it to touch down, but referee Jerome Garces had already blown for the penalty.

Farrell landed his kick from 40 metres out to put England 3-0 ahead and, as Italy's talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni left the field injured, the advantage swung further towards the visitors.

Farrell landed another three-pointer from an almost identical position, only for Italy to strike as half-time approached.

Concerted pressure led to a grubber kick from Benvenuti which ricocheted off the covering Youngs and then full-back Foden to leave Venditti to flop on the loose ball.

Worse was to follow seconds later when Benvenuti seized on an ambitious offload from Foden and sprinted clear from halfway for an interception try that put Italy 10-6 up.

Burton popped over the easiest of conversions to make it 12-6, and the 60,000-strong crowd shook off the cold to come gloriously alive.

England's inexperienced side were rocking. Burton sliced a drop-goal attempt but extended the lead to 15-6 when Tom Croft was penalised for impeding Parisse.

Then, for the second time in two weeks, Hodgson charged down a poor clearing kick. This time Masi filled the Dan Parks role, with Hodgson gathering the ball to throw his side a desperately needed lifeline.

The 20-year-old Farrell curled over the conversion from way out left to make it 15-13 as coach Stuart Lancaster threw Ben Morgan and Lee Dickson into the mix.

England, revitalised, stormed back into a one-point lead with Farrell's fourth successful kick from four when a deliberate knock-on brought another penalty.

The two replacements were making their presence felt with Dickson's delivery snappy and Morgan's carries punching dents.

Barritt was picked off with Strettle waiting but England came again, Garces ruling out Barritt's opportunistic try for a knock-on.

As the snow began to fall again, Barritt took revenge with a crunching hit on Parisse that gave England a scrum 15m from the Italian try-line. Italy were penalised for collapsing and Farrell, bandaged around the forehead after an earlier collision, stepped up to make it 19-15.

With the clock running down Italy fought back. Replacement Tobias Botes had two kickable penalties, only to make a hash of them both - the second a mis-kick that would have shamed a schoolboy - and England escaped out of their own half.

Italy, their players steaming in the freezing Rome air, had run out of ideas and energy and, when the ball was lost in contact again, England kicked into touch to trigger delight among the white-shirted supporters dotted round the famous old stadium.


Italy: 15-Andrea Masi, 14-Giovanbattista Venditti, 13-Tommaso Benvenuti, 12-Gonzalo Canale, 11-Luke McLean, 10-Kris Burton, 9-Edoardo Gori; 1-Andrea Lo Cicero, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 4-Quintin Geldenhuys, 5-Marco Bortolami, 6-Alessandro Zanni, 7-Robert Barbieri, 8-Sergio Parisse (capt)

Replacements: 16-Tommaso D'Apice (for Ghiraldini, 58), 17-Lorenzo Cittadini (for Castrogiovanni, 33), 18-Antonio Pavanello (for Geldenhuys, 57), 19-Mauro Bergamasco (for Barbieri, 75), 20-Fabio Semenzato (for Gori, 57), 21-Tobias Botes (for Burton, 47), 22-Luca Morisi (for Canale, 63).

England: 15-Ben Foden, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Brad Barritt, 12-Owen Farrell, 11-David Strettle, 10-Charlie Hodgson, 9-Ben Youngs; 1-Alex Corbisiero, 2-Dan Cole, 3-Dylan Hartley, 4-Mouritz Botha, 5-Tom Palmer, 6-Tom Croft , 7-Chris Robshaw (capt), 8-Phil Dowson

Replacements: 16-Rob Webber (for Hartley, 74), 17-Matt Stevens (for Cole, 74), 18-Geoff Parling (for Palmer, 58), 19-Ben Morgan (for Dowson, 51), 20-Lee Dickson (for Youngs, 51), 21-Jordan Turner-Hall (for Hodgson, 77). Not used: 22-Mike Brown


Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA)

Touch judges: Alain Rolland (IRE) & Neil Paterson (SCO)

TV: Tony Redmond (IRE)