England topped Italy 19-15 in falling snow at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, gutsing out a second straight win from two matches in Six Nations rugby.
England rallied from a 15-6 deficit soon after halftime with its only try to Charlie Hodgson and more flawless kicking from Owen Farrell, who added his third and fourth penalties.
Two mistakes from England fullback Ben Foden conceded out-of-the-blue tries to Italy right before halftime, but after Kris Burton kicked Italy 15-6 ahead, his replacement Tobias Botes missed two late kickable penalties.
Before the match, there was real feeling that Italy could follow its stunning win over France in Rome last year with a first victory against England in 18 matches. Jacques Brunel was making his home debut as Italy coach and the team was playing for the first time at the sold-out Olimpico, in front of an expectant crowd of 72,000 braving a subzero wind chill.
Heavy snow had fallen in the Italian capital for the past week, with Rome experiencing its worst weather in nearly half a century. It finally stopped 90 minutes before the game, but huge areas of the pitch were still covered in snow and ice.
England, unchanged from the narrow opening win over Scotland, was straight on the attack, but David Strettle was hauled down in a dangerous position on the right flank.
However, after that promising start, there was little to entertain the freezing crowd as both teams struggled to break clear.
In the 20th, England won a lineout 10m out, but Brad Barritt fumbled a pass and Italy cleared.
Strettle thought he’d got the opening try moments later, but referee Gerome Garces called play back for a penalty, which Farrell nailed.
There was more bad news for Italy when key prop Martin Castrogiovanni was forced off with an apparent rib injury in the 33rd and replaced by Lorenzo Cittadini. His first contribution was to give away a penalty in the scrum, which Farrell converted to double England’s lead.
Moments later, Italy shocked by scoring two tries in quick succession. First, an Italian grubberkick ricocheted off an England foot and Foden’s chest and winger Giovanbattista Venditti was on hand to scoop up and score, then center Tommaso Benvenuti took advantage of another mistake by Foden. His pass was intercepted by Benvenuti, who raced from near halfway to score between the posts.
Burton converted the second — after hooking the first wide — and added a penalty at the start of the second half to extend Italy’s advantage still further.
England reduced the deficit almost immediately when fullback Andrea Masi’s kick was blocked by Hodgson, who gathered and touched down just as he did for the only try in the Scotland match. Farrell converted and kicked England 16-15 ahead in the 55th with another penalty.
Barritt almost scored another try on the hour for England, but he was hauled down. Italy loosehead Andrea Lo Cicero brought down another scrum and there was little chance Farrell would miss the penalty from near the posts.
Botes had chances to cut the deficit, but his first penalty kick from close to halfway was -woefully short and his attempt in the 74th was well right.
FRANCE VS IRELAND
AP, AP, SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE
France’s Six Nations match against Ireland in Paris was postponed moments before kickoff because of freezing weather on Saturday.