England opened their Six Nations campaign with a seemingly convincing 36-11 win over Italy at Twickenham but they were left with plenty to ponder ahead of their second round clash with champions Wales.
Martin Johnson’s men ran in five tries, with recalled fly-half Andy Goode taking less than two minutes to open their account.
But the sight of England captain Steve Borthwick being driven back several yards when he first tried to drive round the fringes — something Johnson said he’d specifically warned against — would have heartened the grand slam holders.
The way in which Goode, who missed several goalkicks after his dramatic start, repeatedly punted the ball straight to Italy’s back three, created a sense of foreboding as to what might happen were he to do the same against the likes of Welsh stars Shane Williams and Lee Byrne.
London Irish lock Nick Kennedy led an impressive England lineout display but the scrum, a weakness during November losses to Australia, world champions South Africa and New Zealand, faltered again.
Steffon Armitage, a clubmate of Kennedy’s, made his Test debut alongside brother Delon, the team’s fullback, as they became the first siblings to play in the same England side since Rory and Tony Underwood in 1995.
But the pace and intensity of the game appeared to take the flanker aback and he was replaced by experienced campaigner Joe Worsley.
Overall, there was a sense that England, having established a 22-6 half-time lead, failed to press on to the kind of thumping win the All Blacks or the Springboks would have achieved in similar circumstances.
But during the opening period they were given a huge helping hand by Italy coach Nick Mallett’s decision to play flanker Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half for the first time in a Test following the loss of several regular number nines through injury.
Bergamasco, winning his 70th cap, never looked comfortable in his new role.
He was out of position defensively when Goode scored his try and it was his stray pass that led to New Zealand-born center Riki Flutey’s first try for England.
The 29-year-old was finally replaced at half-time — an admission by Mallett his gamble had failed and that there are still such things as specialist positions.
That Italy looked a far more settled and assured team with Giulio Toniolatti at scrum-half after the break left their fans thinking of what might have been had Bergamasco, whose brother Mirco scored Italy’s only try, started in his familiar back-row position.
■IRELAND V FRANCE
Ireland, chasing a first Grand Slam since 1948, enjoyed the perfect start to this year’s Six Nations campaign on Saturday with an impressive 30-21 victory over France.
Tries by Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, his 33rd for his country, and Gordon D’Arcy, on his return to international rugby after a year’s absence, saw the Irish to their first win over France since 2003.
The victory also represented a winning Six Nations debut for Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
The visitors scored two tries through Imanol Harinordoquy and Maxime Medard.