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England squeeze past Italy in Six Nations opener

By AFP

February 3, 2024 09:53 PM


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England kicked off their Six Nations campaign with a hard-fought 27-24 win over Italy in Rome on Saturday, ending a long-standing opening day hoodoo while failing to convince against their spirited hosts.

Elliot Daly and Alex Mitchell scored England's two tries with George Ford kicking the rest of the points for Steve Borthwick's men, who claimed their first round one win since 2019.

England are a point behind Ireland, who soundly beat France on Friday, in the Six Nations standings after failing to earn a bonus point in a bitty display in the Italian capital in which the hosts scored three tries to the Red Rose's two.

"Mixed bag performance, really pleased with some of the endeavour. There were a few growing pains out there but delighted with the character shown," said England captain Jamie George, whose team started two debutants and brought three more off the bench for their first caps.

"There were lots of new faces out there but the thing that pleased me was the way we rallied round and showed a lot more of what we are about."

England were trailing Italy by nine points mid-way through the first half after superb scores by Alessandro Garbisi and Tommaso Allan.

But Gonzalo Quesada's Italy couldn't pull off their first ever win over England on the head coach's debut in the Azzurri dugout.

It was a promising display from the Italians who scored a late converted try through Monty Ioane to earn a defensive bonus point, and the result could have been in doubt for longer had Tommaso Allan not missed a key penalty in the second half.

Nevertheless, Italy have won just one Six Nations match of their last 43 and have not enjoyed victory at home since 2013.

"I am proud of the boys as we always fight for each other, lots of things we can do to be better, but we should follow the road Gonzalo has paved for us," said Italy captain Michele Lamaro.

"It is not enough to go so close, we have to build on this... Obviously proud of our performance but we need to get better."

  England edge home 

England, meanwhile, got their bid to win their first Six Nations title in four years up and running ahead of facing Wales at Twickenham next weekend.

Italy were the better team in the opening minutes of the match and after Allan opened the scoring with a penalty in the fifth minute Alessandro Garbisi dotted down with a deserved try for the hosts.

Lorenzo Cannone collected a Paolo Garbisi pass and burst through the midfield before perfectly timing his lay-off, allowing the younger Garbisi brother to cross for a converted try and a 10-0 lead.

However England fought straight back, George Ford kicking a penalty in the 16th minute before Elliot Daly scored the away side's first -- unconverted -- try after brilliant work from Tommy Freeman.

But instead of collapsing as they once would have Italy held up under England pressure and extended their lead to 17-8 with another outstanding try, Allan scoring under the posts following a thrilling sweeping move which had the home fans roaring with delight.

Ford cut Italy's lead to just three points at half-time with two further penalties, and those points turned out to be crucial as Alex Mitchell bundled England ahead soon after the break, with Ford making the score 21-17 with his boot.

Ford struck twice again in the 54th and 66th minutes to take his penalty tally for the match to five as Italy finally began to buckle under England pressure.

However Italy secured their bonus point with the clock in the red when Ioane dotted down, with Paolo Garbisi completing the scoring with a conversion to warm applause from the home fans.


AFP


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