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01 December 2023

Six Nations: England hit back to deny Italy

Giovanbattista Venditti of Italy scores a try during the RBS Six Nations match against England at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday in Rome, Italy. (GETTYY)


England overcame a half-time deficit to hit back and deny Italy a historic victory at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday in a pulsating 19-15 Six Nations victory.

Italy pounced on two England errors to score tries through Tommaso Benvenutti and Giovambattista Venditti, in only his second appearance, to turn around at the break 12-6 in front.

But a charge-down try from Charlie Hodgson and five out of five successful kicks from Owen Farrell gave the reigning Six Nations champions a hard-fought victory.

"We kept plugging away and upped the tempo in the second half. We didn't lose our heads and it obviously came good in the end," said Hodgson.

"We were 15-6 down, to come back and be successful in a place like this against Italy with all their experience shows what (spirit) we have, we're obviously delighted to get the win.

"We've worked hard over the last couple of weeks, with these two victories (after beating Scotland in the first Six Nations weekend). A week off next week and we look forward to the Wales game and see what happens then."

The game kicked off with a bizarre looking pitch as stewards had cleared one half of the ground of snow but not the other.

In freezing conditions scores were always going to be hard to come by and it was no surprise that both sides struggled to create much.

A clever ball inside from Brad Barritt to Phil Dowson saw England break into the Italy 22 but that came to nothing.

Australian-born Luke McLean broke down the left wing for the hosts but after he popped the ball inside to Andrea Masi, the full-back was hauled down.

Italy were matching England despite some poor tactical kicking from Australian-born fly-half Kris Burton.

But when the Azzurri tried to run the ball, they capitulated.

Captain Sergio Parisse threw away a pass and David Strettle kicked on only to be tripped by Burton, cutting across the England winger.

Farrell knocked over the 40-metre penalty to give England a 3-0 lead after 27 minutes.

Ten minutes later Italy, for whom Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni had been forced off with a rib injury, wheeled around a scrum and Farrell scored his second penalty from an identical position.

But right on the stroke of half-time England twice committed suicide and Italy scored two tries.

Benvenutti tried a grubber kick near the England line with the ball bouncing up, hitting Ben Foden in the chest and then being spilled backwards and over the try line by Ben Youngs with Venditti able to pounce on the loose ball to score an unconverted try.

Moments later Foden threw away a pass near halfway as he was tackled by Alessandro Zanni and Benvenutti intercepted before streaking away to score under the posts with Chris Ashton unable to catch him.

Six minutes into the second half England captain Chris Robshaw accidentally tripped his Italian counterpart and Burton landed the place kick to give the hosts a nine-point lead.

But then moments later Italy had their own meltdown as Hodgson charged down Masi's clearance inside the 22 and went over for his second such score in two games.

Farrell scored the extras and soon afterwards knocked over a penalty after Marco Bortolami was penalised for offside giving England a one-point lead.

Andrea Lo Cicero was then penalised for collapsing a scrum and Farrell kicked three more points.

Italy could still have won it but South African-born replacement fly-half Tobias Botes missed two kickable penalties.