Owen Farrell keeps his cool as England triumph in freezing Italy
Saracens star lands 100 per cent record
RBS 6 Nations
Italy 15 England 19
OWEN Farrell produced a faultless kicking display to land 14 points as England turned around a half-time deficit to beat Italy in Rome.
Trailing 12-6 at the break, Stuart Lancaster’s side upped the ante in the second half helped by the introduction of Northampton Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson and some woeful kicking by the hosts’ replacement kicker Tobias Botes.
It was a far cry from the first half when two tries in as many minutes from Giovanbattista Venditti and Tomasso Benvenuti, both coming after errors from England, handed Italy the lead and the opportunity to record their first win over their rivals.
However, if there is one thing this embryonic England side has displayed in abundance it is grit and determination, and after Charlie Hodgson charged down Andrea Masi’s kick to score a try in the corner early in the second half England never looked back with two Farrell penalties completing the Red Rose’s second away win in a week.
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Heavy snowfall throughout the day put the game in some doubt and even though it was given the go ahead the freezing conditions at Stadio Olimpico proved problematic for both sides.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs had to come to England’s rescue with a try-saving tackle on Masi in the visitors’ 22 while No.8 Phil Dowson was denied a first international try by the referee’s whistle after pouncing on an Italian error to touch down only for referee Jerome Garces to have already awarded England the penalty. Farrell made sure it wasn’t a missed opportunity for England by landing the kick from 40 metres to put the away side 3-0 to the good.
The Italians’ cause wasn’t helped by an injury to talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni and Farrell landed another penalty from an almost identical position to his earlier success as England looked to build some momentum.
Any hopes the visitors may have had of that momentum materialising evaporated when Italy crossed the whitewash twice in an error strewn 120 seconds.
First a spell of pressure on the England defence resulted in a grubber kick from Benvenuti ricocheting off Youngs and then full-back Ben Foden and falling perfectly for Venditti to pounce on the loose ball.
Things then went from bad to worse for England when Benvenuti snaffled an offload from Foden and sprinted in from halfway with Kris Burton adding the extras to give Italy a 12-6 half-time lead.
That sparked the 60,000 crowd into life and when Burton added a second half penalty after Tom Croft had impeded Sergio Parisse the Azzuri’s faithful sensed an historic victory.
But this England team is made of stern stuff and for the second time in a week Hodgson charged down a poor kick, this time from Masi, before gathering and scoring to give England hope. Former St George’s schoolboy, Farrell, made no mistake with the tricky conversion to put England within two points of their hosts.
Lancaster shuffled his pack introducing Dickson and No.8 Ben Morgan and the replacements immediately helped England raise the tempo. Dickson steered the pack masterfully and his quick ball at the break down had Italy scrambling. A deliberate knock-on handed Farrell the opportunity to add his third penalty of the afternoon and the 20-year-old was in no mood to pass up the chance as England edged back in front.
Farrell’s Saracens team-mates Brad Barritt and Strettle looked to have worked an opening but were rebuffed by the Italians’ defence and Barritt’s opportunistic try was ruled out for a knock on by referee Garces.
Barritt was now making his presence felt and a crunching hit from the South African born centre on Parisse handed England a scrum within sight of the Italy try-line. England turned the screw at the scrum and the hosts were penalised for collapsing handing Farrell an easy three points.
With time running out Italy were twice handed the chance to put real pressure on England but replacement Botes made a complete hash of two very kickable penalties and when Italy lost the ball in contact following a scrum, England hacked the ball into touch to complete a hard-fought victory.
England: Foden, Ashton, Barritt, Farrell, Strettle, Hodgson (Turner-Hall 78), Youngs (Dickson 52); Corbisero, Hartley (Webber 75), Cole (Stevens 75), Botha, Palmer (Parling 59), Croft, Robshaw, Dowson (Morgan 52).