Owen Farrell proved to be the difference between Italy and England at a snowy Stadio Olimipco, Rome, on Saturday 11th February 2012, as the two sides took to the field in their RBS 6 Nations 2012 encounter.
England eventually won a close match 19-15 despite Italy scoring two late first half tries to come in 12-6 in front at half time.
The hosts could – an perhaps should – have won if their goal kicking had been as good as that of Owen Farrell for the visiting England side. Farrell kicked all of his efforts at goal, including a long difficult penalty, and a conversion right from the corner.
In the second half, Italy replaced their 10, Kris Burton, with Tobias Botes, who made dreadful looking miss-kicks on two kickable penalties that would have given Italy the lead.
The story of the match looked to be the Italians grabbing 12 points in three minutes right at the death of a first half England had dominated on a snow-strewn pitch in Rome.
After 37 minutes of mostly England probing – with, in truth, little glimpse of a try-scoring opportunity for either side – Italy worked themselves towards the English 22, and Kris Burton put through a grubber on the snowy pitch, which English scrum half, Youngs, fumbled. Moments later, another hack through deflected off one England player, into the chest of Foden at full-back, before bouncing into the hands of the powerful Italian winger, Venditti, who touched down gleefully in the corner.
Burton was unable to kick the penalty from wide, which meant Italy trailed to Farrell’s two well-taken penalties by just a point, at 6-5.
England restarted with 30 seconds on the first half clock. Soon, Ben Foden was recovering a kicked ball, and jinking past his man. His effort to pass out of a tackle went wrong in the worst possible way, however, as Italian centre, Benvenuti, intercepted, before sprinting 50 yards to touch down under the posts.
Burton made no mistake from bang in front to give the Italians an unlikely 12-6 half time lead.
In the second half, England maintained the possession and pressure they had displayed at the start of the first half, but Italy extended their lead to an important 9 points with a penalty through Burton.
It was not until Italy won a turnover on their own 22 that England would pounce. Italy threw the ball to Andrea Masi, their full-back, who looked to hit yet another clearing kick, but, for the second week running, English fly half, Charlie Hodgson had anticipated this, and charged the kick down. The ball bounced towards the Italian line with Hodgson, chased by defenders, racing towards it. A perfect bounce into the Englishman’s arms saw him sliding over the line for 5 points.
Farrell kicked the vital conversion under pressure, to put England within two points, before adding a tricky penalty – with the ball wobbling in the breeze – minutes later to give England a 1 point lead.
England, once in front, then turned on some moments of impressive rugby, particularly with the replacement of Ben Youngs (scrum half) and Phil Dowson (Number 8) for Lee Dixon and Ben Morgan respectively seeming to add some spark to England’s ball recycling. Both players may well have done enough to secure a starting berth against Wales at Twickenham in a fortnight’s time.
England then added another penalty to put the lead into try territory, after England’s scrum forced Italy to drop. Farrell slotted a more routine kick to go four points in front.
Burton had been replaced for Tobias Botes, shortly after kicking Italy into that 9 point lead, and had come from the field shaking his head. Perhaps he was justified in believing he should have remained having been involved in almost all of Italy’s points until then. If it was tough for him to watch Botes skew his first penalty, it must have been near impossible to watch the second, which screwed under the crossbar from 25 metres out with Italy needing a penalty to go within a point of England’s tally.
Botes missed, and England professionally played out for a four point win.
For Italy, though, it was another oh-so-close home defeat against England. While they will feel a little aggrieved at the manner of their defeat, England were better than four point winners for much of this match, which they controlled for large periods without looking under a great deal of pressure.
Some interesting rugby awaits fans of both Italy and England in this tournament.
While Italy will be delighted with scoring twice against England, the manner of those tries on a snowy pitch was not exactly anything they can point to as “self-made”. Italy still look to be short of a world class 10, and a finisher on either flank. With those additions, they’d be a serious force in this tournament. As things stand, it is difficult to see Italy winning against Ireland, Wales or even Scotland this time around, unless they can work around this apparent deficiency.
England will face sterner tests against Wales, France and Ireland, too, but their team is showing signs of being, at least, a difficult set of men to defeat, which is a good start. Grand Slam? Hugely unlikely. 6 Nations? Maybe, just maybe. Both are still on after two rounds for England.