- The visitors come from behind to beat the Italians at the Stadio Olimpico
- The Italians were leading 17-14 at the break, but Steve Borthwick’s side rallied
- England’s rebuilding job starts with attacking flourishes and defensive errors
England’s rebuilding job in Rome began with a victory. This was a long way from being a masterpiece ready for the Pantheon but nothing here was built in a day.
There were errors in defence but flashes of life in attack. Ethan Roots, Alex Mitchell and Tommy Freeman were their chief architects but things are still at the cement-mixing stage.
In their first match of the post-Owen Farrell era, England fought back from 10-0 down to ensure their unbeaten record against Italy remains intact.
Expectations on the England team have been tampered in recent years. They had not won an opening match in the Six Nations since 2019 and the smile on Jamie George’s face at the final whistle reflected a job done.
It was not particularly pretty but they at least showed more attacking endeavour than they did at last year’s World Cup. Five debutants and 17 points from the boot of George Ford. Satisfactory but not sensational. Not one for the Roman history books.
Alex Mitchell’s try put England ahead after they trailed Italy in the early stages of the match
Tommaso Allan scored a try, two conversions and a penalty in a dominant first half display
The smile on Jamie George’s face at the final whistle reflected a job done over valiant Italians
When news broke 90 minutes before kick-off that Ellis Genge had been ruled out with a foot injury, there was no sense of alarm amongst the travelling punters, dressed as emperors and foot soldiers. Victory here often feels like an inevitability here and anything less would have been a disastrous start to the new era.
In the end, a victory in the bright and breezy Italian sunshine was enough to avert any metaphorical storm clouds which seem to have hung over the England team for a good while. George and Steve Borthwick spoke after the match about how previous England teams have been consumed by fear, kicking the ball away at the first opportunity, and now is the time for a change in mindset. English rugby needs some positive thinkers and George will be at the forefront.
On paper, there were vulnerabilities in the English ranks. If Italy were ever going to secure their first victory in this fixture then this felt like their chance. A new captain, a new midfield, a new identity.
Things did not go England’s way in the early exchanges. They have recruited a new defence coach in Felix Jones but, in the first half, their structure was full of holes. Tacklers flew up individually, disjointed, losing their width and leaving open spaces for the Italians to exploit.
They conceded three penalties in the first six minutes, with Tommy Allan kicking the opening points when Maro Itoje strayed offside. Scrum-half Alex Mitchell kept his clearance kicks in play and Italy simply ran it back. They were daring and ambitious, with Juan Ignacio Brex linking up with Lorenzo Cannone to set up Alessandro Garbisi for a long-range opening try.
England relied on their fresh faces to keep them in touch. Roots averaged seven metres from every bruising carry, while Freeman offered a little more dynamism out wide. Winning collisions and cutting sharp lines, Elliot Daly scored England’s first try of the tournament to narrow the gap after 20 minutes, adding to George Ford’s penalty. Freeman provided the assist and it is hard to see any of England’s returning cavalry displacing him from the No14 jersey.
‘Things will start to click,’ said Freeman. ‘There are definitely a few things we need to catch up on but it was an awesome experience. The more we play with each other the more we’ll get the hang of each other and be on the same page a bit more. Overall, we want to win this competition. We want to be the champions of Europe..
Even the greatest optimists will struggle to see England beating Ireland on this weekend’s evidence, after Italy sliced open the defence in the first half. The hosts were composed and structured, scanning the field before they launched their next long-range attack.
This time, Paolo Garbisi looped around Brex and tempted English defenders to bite. At times it was hard to tell who in the backline was leading the defence – a role that Owen Farrell relished – and they left half the pitch empty for Allen to score down the right.
George Ford kicked five penalties and a conversion as England turned it around in Rome
Italy wing Monty Ioane’s late try was not enough to claw it back for the hosts in their opener
Fin Smith came on for his England debut, replacing England’s No10 for the final minutes
Ford kicked two more penalties before half time and, as they usually do in this fixture, England asserted more scoreboard pressure in the second half. Mitchell provided quick ruck ball, cementing his status as the country’s leading scrum half. And after Freeman threw a quick lineout to Freddie Steward, England knitted together five phases before Mitchell made a slippery run from the ruck to score.
In the second half, England’s collective line-speed improved. They forced Italian errors, earning their first scrum put-in after 54 minutes. They won a penalty at the set piece, allowing Ford to add three more points. And after England’s No10 put kicked his side 10 points ahead in the 67th minute, he made way for debutant Fin Smith.
Chandler Cunningham-South and Manny Feyi-Waboso also joined the action, as England began to look to the future. The replacements offer dangerous running threats but England are still searching for a line-breaker in midfield. Steve Borthwick provided positive injury updates on Genge and George Martin, both of whom could feature against Wales next week, but he did not offer any news on Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi.
Cunningham-South made a huge covering tackle in defence but the tourists failed to pull away. Daly was sin-binned for a trip in the 76th minute, before Monty Ioane scored a long-range try at the death.