England scrape to narrow victory in Italy

Guinness Six Nations

Italy 24-27 England

A rallying second-half performance helped England to a battling 27-24 victory away at Italy in the opening round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations.

A lacklustre start from the visitors paired with a dynamic first-half showing from the hosts saw the Azzurri head into the break 17-14 to the good.

Tries from Paolo Garbisi and Tommaso Allan were the highlights of a sprightly showing in Gonzalo Quesada’s first Test match in charge.

However England remained in touch through a combination of the boot of George Ford and some brief pockets of energy and drive that allowed Elliot Daly to crash over the in the corner in between Italy’s two tries.

It was enough to keep England in touch heading into the interval and they did not look back after the restart.

An entrepreneurial try from Alex Mitchell was the perfect start before Ford kicked England clear and off to a winning start in the Championship despite Monty Ioane’s late try.

Italy started brightly and gave the visitors an early warning sign with some quick ball that caught Maro Itoje offside, with Allan on hand to slot over the ensuing penalty with just five minutes on the clock.

The Azzurri continued to push for further reward from their quick opening, Paolo Garbisi’s searching cross-field kick a sign of Italy’s expansive ambition, but it was just too long to set Monty Ioane free from English grasps.

Alessandro Garbisi celebrates after punishing some poor English defending.

The hosts had to wait just two minutes to breakthrough, as Lorenzo Cannone broke the line before offloading to Alessandro Garbisi who dotted down under the posts for his first Guinness Men’s Six Nations try, Allan adding the extras.

That try seemed to spark England into life, with Steve Borthwick’s men responding to the early deficit with new vim and vigour to their attack.

That soon drew a penalty which Ford duly despatched, and the visitors were then had Daly over the try line with 20 minutes on the clock.

If the scorer was a familiar face in English white, it was two new names who were at its heart as Ethan Roots created space out wide with a big carry which Tommy Freeman took full advantage of with a superb darting run to break the line and feed Daly.

Yet just as it seemed England had found their rhythm in Rome, Italy struck back with their second try of the game with a slickly executed move.

Soft hands through the line drew in the English defenders, leaving Juan Ignacio Brex swathes of space to play in Allan, who ran home under the posts before converting his own try.

Just like after Italy’s first try, England responded well, this time marching straight down to the Italian try line with Freeman somehow held up before Ford eventually slotted home another penalty.

Ford’s boot continued to keep England in touch, with the fly-half knocking another one over to ensure England went in at the break with just a three-point deficit.

Alex Mitchell’s early second half try proved crucial.

That pair of penalties proved a crucial platform, as England started the second half well and were ahead for the first time in the contest after just five minutes.

They had the instincts of Mitchell to thank, as the scrum-half spotted the space in the Italian line from the back of a ruck and shrugged off a tackle before diving over.

That score opened up a period of dominance for the visitors, with Ford slotting home another penalty from distance to extend England’s lead to the value of a converted try.

With their advantage in hand, England were able to control the contest in a way they simply weren’t able to in the first-half thanks to relentless Italian pressure and the gap was further widened by another Ford penalty 13 minutes from time.

Italy looked to respond and prevent a contest that at times looked set to promise so much from fully slipping away from them, and a yellow card for Daly for a trip offered a glimmer of hope with five minutes remaining.

Ioane duly took advantage with the clock deep in the red, running clear to dot down and seal a losing bonus point with the aid of Paolo Garbisi’s conversion.

Italy will take a lot from this performance but face a formidable test next Sunday as Ireland visit the Stadio Olimpico while England welcome Wales to Twickenham next Saturday.

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