It was rough and tough but in the end England emerged convincing 59-12 winners over Italy win in a testing Six Nations' Championship match in Rome yesterday.
The first half was messy, the flow disrupted by Italian determination to hound their opponents at every opportunity, but England took command after the break. Austin Healey scored a hat-trick of tries and Ben Cohen and the captain, Matt Dawson, claimed two each as England stayed on course for a Grand Slam.
Italy's coach, the New Zealander Brad Johnstone, had warned England that his side would be a tougher proposition on their own ground than they had in two successive defeats in Wales and Ireland. But they took their determination too far in a fierce, ill-tempered opening 20 minutes that was littered with penalties. Three Italians were sin-binned, along with the England lock Garath Archer, and England were awarded a penalty try when Healey was high tackled trying to score.
England's coach, Clive Woodward, said: "Really after that first 20 minutes I was saying all I want is to get out of this with a win. In the first half we were pretty disappointing but in the second we got into the game and played pretty well."
It was understandable that England could not find their rhythm during the ugly start to the match, which was at odds with the beautiful spring afternoon, a superb pitch and a tightly packed stadium, which had seemed perfect for England to display their expansive running style.
Italy had burrowed their way through for a surprise converted try by Luca Martin to overhaul Jonny Wilkinson's two early penalties, but after that England gradually took control as the Italians paid for the roughhouse tactics
After the penalty try, Neil Back resorted to dropping a goal to escape Italy's smothering. Then Dawson skipped through for a converted try and, with a 23-7 lead at half-time, England were over the worst and on their way.