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Patchy England beat Italy but are miles off becoming rugby's 'greatest' team


So the mission to become the “greatest team the world has ever seen” is back on track.

A week ago against Scotland they resembled the worst England team Twickenham had ever seen.

Yesterday Eddie Jones’ side at least took a step in the right direction towards his wildly ambitious goal.

But it was a mighty small one.

A win against Italy, with respect to the Azzurri, means nothing. England have never not beaten them.

Progress could only be measured in improved performance against opponents winless in the Six Nations since 2015.

In their ability to start fast after being left in the stalls by Gregor Townsend’s tartan marauders.

To address a penalty count that got ugly fast against the Scots. To shut the door at the back and not give away any easy tries.

Seventy two seconds in and Italy launched their first attack. England immediately conceded a penalty.



Anthony Watson intercepts an Italian pass and goes the length for the second of his two tries
Anthony Watson intercepts an Italian pass and goes the length for the second of his two tries

Fifty two seconds later and Italy strung together their first sequence of passes. Winger Monty Ioane scored easily in the corner.

This was the stuff of Jones’ nightmares, as if someone had paused the Calcutta Cup tape, left it seven days, and restarted it.

England recovered, as sadly all teams do against Italy. Jonny Hill, Anthony Watson and Jonny May, spectacularly, each went over for tries before half-time.



Jack Willis comes off the bench to score his first England try
Jack Willis comes off the bench to score his first England try

But this was a team playing only in fits and starts. Passes went to ground, inaccuracy reigned.

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As the contest wore on so frustration grew, most notably in captain Owen Farrell.

After his side had been pinged for a sixth time Farrell boiled over, unwisely offering Scottish ref Mike Adamson a piece of his mind.



Willis' try joy is shortlived as he suffers a serious knee injury minutes later
Willis’ try joy is shortlived as he suffers a serious knee injury minutes later

Moments later he clattered late into the back of Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney. His head caught Varney’s who dropped to the ground.

Few saw it as in the same move Watson intercepted Paolo Garbisi’s pass and ran it back 80 metres for a try.

But the officials did and Farrell faced an anxious wait before it was ruled, somewhat surprisingly, that the skipper had no case to answer whatsoever.



Henry Slade congratulates Watson on his try double
Henry Slade congratulates Watson on his try double

Relief turned to anguish as Jack Willis came off the bench to score his first England try only to let out a cry of anguish as he then wrecked his knee.

Distracted by what, admittedly, was a highly distressing moment England dropped their guard to again let Italy in through a smart Tommaso Allan try.

They did recover their composure to claim the final points, but this was a win to put fear into no-one, a pale imitation of France’s 50-point romp in Rome a week ago.

England allowed Italy their highest points tally in the fixture since 2008 and profited not from collective excellence but individual moments of class.

Yes they returned to winning ways, but rugby’s greatest team? That remains a distant dream.

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PLAYER RATINGS

ENGLAND

Elliot Daly – 6

More prominent in attack than last week but horribly exposed by Ioane’s pace in defence

Anthony Watson – 8

A bystander against Scotland, two sharp tries here to take his England career tally to 20

Henry Slade – 7

Such a classy footballer, nice to see him get an opportunity to show glimpses of it this week

Owen Farrell (capt) – 6

Still looks out of sorts, lucky to avoid a card as frustration boiled over

Jonny May – 7

Went second on England’s all-time try list in spectacular style with number 32.

George Ford – 7

Not perfect by any means but re-awakened England’s back line from its Calcutta Cup hibernation

Ben Youngs – 6

Steady and unspectacular. England’s attacking game sharpened when Dan Robson took over

Mako Vunipola – 6

First game back from ankle injury and was replaced early to have ankle encased in ice

Luke Cowan-Dickie – 7

14 carries for 59 metres and solid in set-piece made for satisfactory return on rare start

Kyle Sinckler – 8

First game back from suspension and a man of the match display for the nuggety prop

Maro Itoje – 7

Still concedes too many penalties but a niggling presence throughout for England

Jonny Hill – 7

A first England try for the big man and a tidy day’s work at the set-piece

Courtney Lawes – 6

Gave up England’s first penalty but his relentless physicality served England well for 50 minutes

Tom Curry – 7

Worked tirelessly at the breakdown and topped England’s tackle count

Billy Vunipola – 6

More visible than against Scotland but still a shadow of his carrying best

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Replacements

Jamie George (Cowan-Dickie 52) 7, Ellis Genge (M Vunipola 52) 7, Will Stuart (Sinckler 74) 6, Charlie Ewels (Hill 51) 6, Ben Earl (B Vunipola 59) 7, Jack Willis (Lawes 59) 7, Dan Robson (Youngs 51) 8 , Max Malins (Willis 65) 6.

ITALY

Jacopo Trulla 7; Luca Sperandio 7, Juan Ignacio Brex 6, Carlo Canna 6, Montanna Ioane 8; Paolo Garbisi 7, Stephen Varney 7; Andrea Lovotti 6, Luca Bigi (capt) 7, Marco Riccioni 6, Marco Lazzaroni 6, David Sisi 7, Sebastian Negri 7, Johan Meyer 7, Michele Lamaro 7.





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