England got their 2024 Guinness Six Nations off to a winning start in Rome this afternoon as they saw off Italy 27 – 24.
Both sides had their moments but it was England who capitalised on Italy’s inaccuracies when exiting their own half.
Racing into a 10 – 0 lead, Italy set themselves up perfectly to pull off the upset as Alessandro Garbisi scampered away from the English defence with Tommy Allan adding the extras.
England would reply firstly through a penalty by George Ford before Elliot Daly crossed for the men in white’s first try of the day.
Ford would be the key point accumulator for the England as he slotted five penalties and a conversion for a 17 point personal haul.
For Steve Borthwick’s men, there were several promising performances from newcomers to the squad. Leading the charge was Northampton winger Tommy Freeman who was simply electric with the ball in hand, whilst Exeter back row Ethan Roots brought a physical edge.
Italy will take some solace that they outscored their visitors by three tries to two and ended with a score in overtime from Monty Ioane to at least take a losing bonus point from the action.
England deserved win
Speaking post-match, Italian coach Gonzalo Quesada was happy with his team’s effort but lamented errors at the line-out and under the high ball.
“I think England deserved the win; they did what was needed to win.
“We had some problems in the line-out and with high balls. That is one of their strengths and over the last few weeks we have worked on that – it wasn’t not enough.”
Commenting on Ioane’s try, Quesada said, “We defended our line with a lot of character, and in the past, it would have finished 24-17.
“But we defended the line and did not give up and scored, so it was a little more fair.”
Not going quite as easily on his team, Italian captain Michele Lamaro was frustrated as his side let slip what he was a winnable fixture.
“It’s always hard when you are that close, and you can’t get the win. We played a good first half.
“We 100% need to get better in some areas of the game because, obviously, it’s really tough when you need to defend that much, and we need to build pressure during the game.
“It generally really was that 20 minutes into the second half when we struggled to get out of our half.
“We now need to think about Ireland next week. It’s not good enough honestly. We need to push and we need to build on this performance.”
Room for English growth
On the other side of the action, England captain Jamie George was pleased with the win but felt his side had plenty of scope for growth.
“It was a mixed bag. I would say I am really pleased with some of the endeavour. The boys dug in at times, and I am pleased with the character we showed. There were a couple of thunderbolts and runaway tries.
“There were some new faces in the squad, but the blueprint we played in the second half showed what we are more about.
“In terms of our efficiency there are some fixes we need to get right. The thing that pleased me the most is we tried things and that is what we have been focusing on.
“We have loved how Felix Jones [defence coach] has come in and grabbed Kev’s [Kevin Sinfield’s] defence.
“Felix has come in with new ideas and we want to be physical. It was not perfect and we know we have got to be better going into Wales, but it was a pretty good start.”
Echoing his captain’s points, Borthwick said his team had struggled to click, given their lack of time together.
“I think there are certainly positives to pull out of it, but it looked clunky in bits.
“It looked like a team which only had three training sessions together, but credit to Italy.
“They had a certain part of cohesion picking players from one club which sits second in the United Rugby Championship.
“But a winning start with five debutants and the ability to be in a difficult position and find your way out of it is a massive positive.
“You are always looking for change. There are certainly things to be improved and we got exposed by an Italian team that moves the ball well, but we will improve on that next week.”
Next up for Italy is a trip to Dublin on Sunday to face reigning champions Ireland who thumped France 38 – 17 in Marseille on Friday evening.
England on the other hand host Wales at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.