Likely lads prove decisive

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The Independent Online

England A 33

Italy A 9

England's strength in depth is frightening when you think that the team who handsomely won yesterday's A match at Gloucester are not even a second string, but the likeliest lads for the next-but-one World Cup in 1999.

It was a comforting thought for Jack Rowell and the rest of the England management, taking in the Italians on the way home from Cardiff, that Steve Bates's mainly youthful side should be developing so quickly. Having beaten Ireland, France and Italy at this level, the A team will complete their own grand slam if they beat Natal in Durban on 18 March.

That is a heavy conditional, but England are unconcerned, no matter how much more experienced the opposition. France A contained eight full internationals and, humbler though the standard is, the Italians had no fewer than 10, many of whom we can expect to see when Italy play in England's World Cup group in South Africa in three months' time.

Yesterday's victory was, however, considerably less impressive than the one over the French - which was partly due to an attitude of mind, but also due to the heavy conditions and relative inferiority of the Italians, even if they are supposed to be European rugby's up-and-comers.

England had the game won at an early stage and then, under no great pressure, lapsed into sloppiness which probably arose out of a certain complacency. Still, it was good while it lasted. Italy led briefly after Luigi Troiani had replied to Jez Harris's penalty with two of his own, but once Harris had squared the scores, England pulled away decisively with three tries before half-time.

The first, by Harvey Thorneycroft, came from a mauled line-out take that looked for all the world like the senior England pack. Bates slipped away when the ball squirted out of a scrum for the second. Paul Hull and Thorneycroft combined to put Jon Sleightholme in for the third.

Immediately after the interval, Sleightholme accelerated up the wing and found Richard Hill in support for the fourth try. But after 22 points in 15 minutes, England had their attacking edge so blunted that there their scoring ended. A third penalty by Troiani was all that remained.

Eventually, Rowell had something else to hold his interest, although this was the departure of Simon Shaw, England's principal line-out reserve, with a knee injury, rather than the game itself.

ENGLAND A: Tries Thorneycroft, Bates, Sleight-holme, Hill; Conversions Harris 2; Penalties Harris 3. Italy A: Penalties Troiani 3.

England A: P Hull (Bristol); J Sleightholme (Bath), N Greenstock (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); J Harris (Leicester), S Bates (Wasps, capt); R Hardwick (Coventry), R Cockerill, D Garforth (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle Gosforth), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), A Diprose, R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: C Wilkins (Wasps) for Shaw, 62. Temporary substitute: C Clark (Bath) for Garforth, 20-21.

ITALY A: J Pertile (Roma); R Crotti (Milan), S Bordon (Rovigo), M Piovene (Padova), F Mazzariol (Treviso); L Troiani (L'Aquila, capt), G Faltiba (San Dona); G Grespan (Treviso), G De Carli (Roma), A Castellani (L'Aquila), R Cassina (Casale), M Giacheri (Treviso), A Sgorlon (San Dona), D Scaglia (Tarvisium), M Capuzzoni (Milan). Replacement: G Cicino (L'Aquila) for Scaglia, 71.

Referee: D Gillet (France).