Rugby Union: Gomarsall starts new ball rolling

Rude awakening for the Italians in their quest to join the Five Nations as England canter to an emphatic victory
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The Independent Online
England 54 Italy 21

Tries: Gomarsall 18, 50 Tries: Vaccari 48, Troncon 62

Sleightholme 29, Dallaglio 40 Arancio 71

Johnson 43, Rodber 74

Sheasby 78

Pens: Catt 6, 11, 24 Cons: Dominguez 48, 62, 71

Cons: Catt 18, 40, 43, 50, 74

Half-time: 28-0 Attendance: 40,000

Any notion that the Italians are ready for inclusion in the Five Nations' Championship was rudely shattered yesterday at Twickenham. To survive at any level in this game you require a competitive scrummage and a comfortable line-out. Sadly, Italy had neither and very probably created some sort of world record by winning only one clean line-out during the whole first half.

England therefore sauntered to a victory, which in some respects was admirable enough but which proved nothing about their ability to last the pace with the powers in the game. The possession won by England in that opening quarter, when Italy were being wiped out at the line-out, was almost cringingly embarrassing. Only once in that spell did Italy make it into the England half, and that for the briefest of moments. For the rest they were condemned to living on scraps and forced to run from suicidal positions.

When Andy Gomarsall, in his first international, broke close to his forwards 10 yards out, easily escaping the pawing clutches of his would-be captors, it was as if it was a training exercise. International life, as he will discover soon enough, is not this simple. His second try was scored in similar circumstances, and for the umpteenth time exposed the inadequacy of the Italian back-row defence.

Of England we learned little. There was no test of Phil de Glanville's captaincy and no examination of Mike Catt's goal-kicking technique, although his miss from a simple position in the opening minute and two stabs at conversions later hardly augured well for the tests ahead. To his credit he kicked well enough to finish with 19 points from three penalties and the conversion of five of England's seven tries.

As for de Glanville, his only instruction to his men in that one-sided first half was an exhortation for more of the same. There was a more difficult job for him to come in view of England's unaccountable lethargy midway through the second half. But no tactical nous was needed because the Italians posed no threat to England's supremacy.

Chris Sheasby, who like Gomarsall scored a try on his debut, added a dynamism to a back row which has been one-paced in recent seasons. He is a man for the big occasion and was, unquestionably, big enough for this occasion.

The difference in quality between the two back rows was beyond measurement. Admittedly, the Italian loose trio did not have the benefit of a decent base from which to launch any worthwhile sortie. But they failed both as a unit and individually to make any impact or to test the defensive strengths of England's midfield, in which Will Carling played with all the freshness and zest of a new recruit. The strength, speed and timing of his running caused faltering Italian hearts to flutter all the more; it was from his break and Catt's neatly placed kick that Jon Sleightholme took advantage of Leonardi Manteri's confusion to score England's second try after 29 minutes. The only surprise of a monotonously one-sided first half was that we had to wait until injury time for England to score again before the break.

Like the try before it the damage was done at the line-out, this time the England forwards swarming round the irresistible force that is Martin Johnson, and Lawrence Dallaglio twisting over for the try. But it mattered not where the ball was thrown. England won it and one can only say that the match statistics, which afterwards revealed that the Italians had won two line-outs in the first half, were a gross distortion of the facts. They won one.

Johnson's try three minutes into the second half, his first in this his 25th international, also had its origins in a line-out which, fittingly, he himself won. It was, like the majority of England's tries, functional rather than flamboyant and was in striking contrast to Paolo Vaccari's effort, when he broke beautifully and by dint of dainty footwork raced past Tim Stimpson.

Despite the time and space afforded to England, we saw disappointingly little of their new full-back in attack. At 6ft 3in and more than 15 stone, he is a hard man to hold and on the rare incursions he made was too hot for the Italians to handle.

Ominously, there appeared to be more spaces than spectators at Twickenham, and non-contests such as this will not attract the numbers now required to fund the professional game. The fact there are another three so-called major occasions in the next three weeks, which represent a major financial outlay for the committed fan, is likely to dilute the interest further and one wonders why the RFU's marketing department did not offer a package deal for supporters that would have encouraged them to turn up in greater numbers in the coming weeks.

The New Zealand Barbarians will provide an altogether different test of England's strength and character, and will not allow their opponents the luxury of a free-wheel in the second half, during which a streaker, a Mexican wave, and Sheasby's try were the only events of note to bring the crowd to their feet.

For the Italians, there was a consolation of sorts in the two tries scored from short range by Alessandro Troncon and Orazio Arancio to give some respectability to the scoreline, although it scarcely added weight to their claim to join the ranks of the European elite. On England we must delay judgement.

England: T Stimpson (Newcastle); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), A Adebayo (Bath); M Catt (Bath), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), T Rodber (Northampton), C Sheasby (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: R Hardwick (Coventry) for Leonard, 73; P Greening (Gloucester) for Regan, 76; K Bracken (Saracens) for Gomarsall, 79.

Italy: J Pertile (Roma Olimpic); P Vaccari (Calvisano), S Bordon (Rovigo), I Francescato (Treviso), L Manteri (Treviso); D Dominguez (Milan), A Troncon (Treviso); M Cuttitta (Milan), C Orlandi (Milan), F Properzi (Milan), W Cristofoletto (Treviso), C Checchinato (Treviso), M Giovanelli (Paris University Club, capt), O Arancio (Milan), C Covi (Padova). Replacement: G Guidi (Livorno) for Troncon 31-34; A Sgorlon (Treviso) for Covi, 57;

Referee: P Deluca (Argentina).