Six Nations Game 4 - England vs Italy (20-7)
Jonny got his Six Nations record points score after 3 minutes. Nick Easter [left] scavanged turnover, on his first start for England at No. 6 and was generally busy around the park.
Italy missed an early penalty. Some good pressure around 12 mins lead to an England penalty which Jonny slotted over meticulously. Not surprising since he apparently practised kicking in the snow on Thursday for 2½ hours!
Allesandro Troncon [right] was winning his 92nd cap for the Azzurri.
I thought it was quite a slow start for England, but they kept the board ticking over from Jonny's boot. Italy's forwards weren't about to be bossed about, making a few yards up the pitch and not letting England's grunt boys get their own way.
Twenty-odd minutes in, Italy were close to England's line, but didn't manage to get any points from it, just ending up with an England 22m dropout. Jason Robinson's subsequent tackle made Kane Robertson hold on to the ball after a couple of phases from the restart and Jonny duly slotted another punt through the sticks for three points.
England were much more likely to compete at the lineout, but unlucky Denis Dallan [left], only just back from 2 years out injured, appeared to suffer a nasty ankle twist after 25 minutes. Pratichetti was wheeled on to replace him.
Italy seemed reluctant to run the ball, and constantly kicked for territory. But honestly, what did they have to lose?
Tindall fell short by a couple of yards from the Italian try line, if he'd passed out to Balshaw then they might have had a try. But they were awarded an attacking lineout 5m out and the forwards went for a frantic maul.
Italy infringed, Marco Bortolami [right] was sent to the bin and Ian Balshaw accompanied him off the field with a groin injury, to be replaced by Matthew Tait. The lineout was duely reset and after a few passes across field via Farrell and Tait, Billy Whizz went over for his third try of this championship. Jonny's left boot went wide, but England were then 14-0. Danny Grewcock took the restart, and soon after the hooter went for half time.
Italy came up for a strong maul just after the break, but Farrell turned them over and Jonny duely kicked for some useful yards over the halfway line. A few moves later, Corry was the only white shirt in his half near the ball and Roland de Marigny bundled him into touch. This gave Italy an attacking lineout and England drove them backwards to turn over the ball for an England scrum. England infringed at the subsequent maul but Italy's boot man was unable to kick the penatly.
England spent most of the second period in their own half, but Italy were again unable to capitalise on points. Italy made a mess of an England scrum, but Ellis then scragged Troncon at the Italian scrum and a later infringement then led to another penalty via Wilko.
It was a hard grind and Italy certainly closed England down from last week's performance. But the scoreboard kept ticking over in England's favour.
Andrea Lo Cicero was substituted just before the 60th minute and all of a sudden, England seemed to wake up and run the ball, both sides of the field. It came to naught and then the Italians had a go - falling short inches before the line but they knocked on. England's scrum was solid, but the ball went out shortly afterwards and Italy had an attacking lineout at 5m.
Italy made a break in the 64th minute for Scanavacca to go over under the posts. A well deserved score, and the conversion made the scoreboard 17-7. Tindall went off just after with a dead leg, to be replaced by Toby Flood.
Italy's score seemed to be a bit of a wakeup call for the Red Rose brigade and all of a sudden they started hitting lines and running all over the pitch. They made some good ground and were over the 10m line but Perry Freshwater [right] knocked on. He was duely substituted as were Chuter and Grewcock. Then Jonny's drop goal attempt dropped just short.
Farrell's later clearance gave Italy a lineout in their own half, but England managed to snatch the ball. The backs threw it out wide but the Azzurri defence was pretty strong. Then they had a hand in the ruck, which gave England another chance at goal - Jonny made it 20-7.
Jason Robinson took the restart kick with five minutes to go. Easter was subbed for Tom Rees [left] then England won a scrum, but Jonny's clearance kick fell into blue arms.
Troncon was named Man Of The Match even though he was on the losing side. But as Brian Moore said, nobody from England really stood out.
So. they ground out a win, but it was far from convincing. However, don't forget Italy have been getting stronger and stronger recently and long gone are te days that sides can routinely put 30-40 points past them. I wasn't surprised it took such an effort. But there's plenty for them to think about and hard work to be done before the next match against Ireland on 24th.
Or read my Ten Word Review.