Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 20 News List

RBS NATIONS: Valiant Italy give lackluster England a scare in Rome

AFP , ROME

England's Toby Flood dives over the line for a try against Italy during their Six Nations match at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Valiant Italy came closer than ever, but ultimately lost 23-19 to England in a nail-biting Six Nations championship clash at Rome's Stadio Flaminio on Sunday.

It was the 14th time in 14 encounters that England have triumphed over Italy, but the four-point margin was the closest the Italians have ever come to the World Cup finalists, surpassing the seven-point deficit of their 27-20 defeat at the 1995 World Cup.

But for two dreadful first half errors and a woeful line-out, Italy probably could and should have won.

"It wasn't easy -- Ireland found that last week and other teams will too," England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson said. "Italy are a great side and we could have thrown it away."

England, whose captain Phil Vickery pulled out just before kick off because of a stomach bug, impressed in the first half, scoring tries through Paul Sackey and Toby Flood, while Wilkinson surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his country.

But after the break the hosts swarmed all over their opponents and substitute scrum-half Simon Picone's late try had them dreaming of victory before coming up just short.

Italy twice shot themselves in the foot in the first quarter of an hour, gifting England two tries.

After only three minutes the hosts blundered a line-out in England's half allowing the visitors to break quickly.

Wilkinson, going some way to redeeming himself after a poor performance against Wales, chipped ahead, gathered the ball and offloaded in the tackle to Sackey, who used his pace to sprint to the corner and touch down.

Wilkinson added the two points from out wide before Italy started to get a foothold in the match, with full-back David Bortolussi landing two penalties to reduce the arrears to 7-6.

But Bortolussi then became the villain as his kick from inside his own 22 was charged down by Jamie Noon, who popped the ball up to Wilkinson to give a reverse pass to Flood to streak over in the corner.

Wilkinson converted to notch up his 1,000th point for England.

"It was a case of trying to get out there and express myself on the field," Wilkinson said. "I hoped in some way I could make a difference to the end result."

England were playing with far greater penetration and flanker James Haskell twice went close after marauding breaks.

Italy consistently wasted their best chances, twice with failed drop goal attempts from Bortolussi and Ezio Galon.

They were made to pay as Wilkinson landed two penalties from distance before the break, sending England into the changing rooms with a 20-6 lead.

"At 20-6 at halftime there was a possibility that this team might have lost by 35-10," Italy's South African coach Nick Mallett said. "But I was very pleased with the way we played in the second half."

In the second half Italy kept things much tighter and dominated the ball, while rarely threatening to breach England's tryline.

Two Bortolussi penalties brought the score closer, but Wilkinson knocked over his second penalty of the match to keep England in front.

Italy did have one break down the right from Kiwi-born Kaine Robertson but a brilliant tap tackle from Noon brought him down on the England 22.

Then Picone charged down an ill-advised chip kick from substitute England fly-half Danny Cipriani to race through and score under the posts, with Bortolussi converting.

The gap was down to four points, but it was Italy's line-out that let them down at the death, losing it on the 22 to allow England to clear their lines and survive.

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