England have begun their Six Nations campaign with a win against Italy, with five new caps making their test match debuts for Steve Borthwick’s side. England battled back after a strong start from Italy, through tries from Elliot Daly and Alex Mitchell, and 17 points off the boot of George Ford.
Despite England recording their 31st consecutive win against Italy, there is no understating how impressive the Italians were in this Six Nations opening round battle. The gap between Italy and the rest of the nations could well be dropping, as captain Michele Lamaro led an impassioned Italian side to a narrow defeat at the Stadio Olimpico.
MATCH REPORT: ITALY 24-27 ENGLAND – 2024 GUINNESS SIX NATIONS
From the Stadio Olimpico, Rome
England began the match with a real disciplinary issue, as they gave away three penalties within the first six minutes in Rome. The foul-play began after four minutes, Tommaso Allan handed the opening penalty for an early lead off the tee. The penalty count rose, with Itoje caught offside at the breakdown, as Italy countered and looked strong on the front foot.
It took little over 10 minutes for Italy to find the breakthrough, as the hosts had been the better side in the match’s early goings. Despite the impressive acumen of the Italian back-line, the opening score highlighted some staggering holes in the England defensive line.
A powerful line-break from Juan Ignacio Brex split the England line like a bullet through paper, the back-peddling defenders caught up with Brex, who offloaded to Lorenzo Cannone in an impressive feat of skill. The number eight then executed a neat two-on-one, and handed the ball to Alessandro Garbisi, who managed to skip free of the final tackle attempt and chalk up first blood in this gladiatorial battle.
Tommaso Allan added the following conversion, yet more was to come from the former Harlequin in the first half. Before that, England retaliated with a strong series of drives. The likes of debutant Ethan Roots and back-row Sam Underhill were utilised to churn up the tough yards, with England establishing a better field position. England were awarded a penalty as an Italian defender failed to roll away at the ruck, and George Ford opted for the three points.
Midfield debutant Fraser Dingwall was eager to get involved, and made some impactful carries for England in the first half. However, it was his Northampton Saints teammate that had the splitting blow, as Tommy Freeman burst through the defence to set up Elliot Daly. The two wings combined for England’s first try of the afternoon, which lifted the impressive home support at the Stadio Olimpico.
However, Ford’s missed conversion hindered the immediate nerves, as did the next try of the match. After a six minute halt in the scoring, Brex once again split the line and offloaded the ball to Paolo Garbisi, the fly half found Allan, who shipped it further to Tommaso Menoncello out on the right touchline. The centre then popped the ball back inside to Allan, who ran full pelt through a flurry of fleeing birds, who had nested in Allan’s path to the in-goal area.
Allan added the conversion to his own try, and the Stadio Olimpico was bouncing in support of the Azzurri. A sea of blue jerseys held aloft countless Italian tricolours, as the home side maintained the pressure for a half time lead. England tried to narrow the deficit before the break, yet despite their best efforts to shunt a maul across the try-line, the Roman battalion held firm, with Ford left with no option but to add points from the kicking tee.
A lapse in defensive concentration handed England two additional penalties before the break, which Ford sent sailing through the posts amidst the disruptive horns and whistles in the Italian crowd. The three point deficit was well worth the fight for England, who would have hoped to come out of the gate all guns blazing in the second half.
England certainly achieved their half-time orders, with two Northampton stars once again in the mix of the action. First off, Freeman looked to be in for a stunning solo effort, as he chipped the ball along the wing, yet could not gather before it bobbled into touch.
The play then opened up for England’s Alex Mitchell, who after a couple of pump fake passes, managed to weave his way through the Italian defence. Despite the efforts to bring Mitchell down, the scrum-half extended his reach and dotted down to bring his side into the lead for the first time. Ford’s conversion solidified their stronghold for now, with a 21-17 advantage.
Yet questions remained for England across the park, as they squandered a try-scoring opportunity from 5m out. What looked like a routine move from the training park, saw Maro Itoje have an uncharacteristic line-out miss-hap, and lose the arial battle to Federico Ruzza. That scoring chance was lost, yet England added a further three points on the board shortly after, with Ford nailing his fourth penalty of the match.
Italy regained their composure, and looked to their big-moment players for a spark of brilliance. Wing Montanna Ioane cut through the English defence with an explosive step, with Italy later awarded a penalty following a lengthy play of advantage. However, Allan skewed the shot at goal, and that familiar feeling of the wrong side of the score-line, began to creep back in for the Italians.
A fifth successful penalty was George Ford’s final contribution, before the travelling England fans were treated to the test match debut of Fin Smith. Also, Harlequins back-row Chandler Cunningham-South made his maiden England appearence, as he replaced Sam Underhill in the same 65th minute double-substitution. Alessandro Izekor also joined the fray, as the Benetton back-row made his Italy debut a minute after his opponents made their change.
Soon after his England introduction, Cunningham-South made a try-saving tackle when Italy built up a head of steam. At 71 minutes, the Azzurri executed a quick strike move that sent Federico Mori through to the England 5m line. The Harlequin read the attack, and covered across to make a statement-making hit to maximise his minutes. The ball then returned in field, with Maro Itoje fastest over the break-down to win an important turnover.
All eyes then turned to the to the referee, who after a TMO review handed Elliot Daly his marching orders. The Saracen was wrong-footed by Menoncello, and decided to stick out one of his own to trip the centre down to the ground. A head-scratching decision from Daly, who took the match’s first trip to the sin bin.
Steve Borthwick then emptied out the England bench, and handed Exeter Chiefs wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso his test match debut. Italy captain Michele Lamaro was then shown a yellow card in the penultimate play of the match, and had to watch his side defend the final England attack from the sidelines, as he deliberately collapsed a ruck.
Despite the lack of their captain, it was Italy who had the final say of the match. Despite not being in a position to win, the Azzurri kept fighting and gave their fans one final cheer. Monty Ioane took matters into his own hands, and skipped out of the tackle attempt from Ethan Roots. He then planted Dingwall with a strong fend, before he wheeled away to the try-line for a consolation score. The scoreline was narrowed to only three points, which reflected the impressive Italian performance and their resolve to stay competitive in this Six Nations match.
TRIES (A.Garbisi 11′, Allan 26′, Ioane 85′)
CONVERSIONS: (Allan 11′, 26′, 85′)
PENALTIES: (Allan 4′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS (BUNKERS): 1 (Lamaro 80′)
RED CARDS: 0
15. Tommaso Allan 14. Lorenzo Pani 13. Juan Ignacio Brex 12. Tommaso Menoncello 11. Montanna Ioane 10. Paolo Garbisi 9. Alessandro Garbisi 1. Danilo Fischetti 2. Gianmarco Lucchesi 3. Pietro Ceccarelli 4. Niccolo Cannone 5. Federico Ruzza 6. Sebastian Negri 7. Michele Lamaro 8. Lorenzo Cannone
16. Giacomo Nicotera 17. Mirco Spagnolo 18. Giosue Zilocchi 19. Andrea Zambonin 20. Alessandro Izekor 21. Manuel Zuliani 22. Stephen Varney 23. Federico Mori
TRIES: 2 (Daly 20′, Mitchell 44′)
CONVERSIONS: 1 (Ford 44′)
PENALTIES: 5 (Ford 15′, 32′, 37′, 56′, 66′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS (BUNKERS): 1 (Daly 75′)
RED CARDS: 0
15. Freddie Steward 14. Tommy Freeman 13. Henry Slade 12. Fraser Dingwall 11. Elliot Daly 10. George Ford 9. Alex Mitchell 1. Joe Marler 2. Jamie George 3. Will Stuart 4. Maro Itoje 5. Ollie Chessum 6. Ethan Roots 7. Sam Underhill 8. Ben Earl
16. Theo Dan 17. Ellis Genge 18. Dan Cole 19. Alex Coles 20. Chandler Cunningham-South 21. Danny Care 22. Fin Smith 23. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
POST MATCH REACTIONS TO FOLLOW