"Well, we won," said Martin Johnson. The England manager's opening remark said it all after a Test match that was as confusing as Spaghetti Junction. Having won all 14 of their previous encounters with Italy, losing yesterday was not an option for England, and they duly landed their home banker in the Six Nations.
Was it convincing? Not by any means, but, as Johnson said, the most important thing after they had been comprehensively deflowered in the autumn by the southern-hemisphere heavyweights was a victory of any kind. This was not one for the connoisseur, but after three successive home defeats and one win from six, Johnson will take it.
Whether he will be able to take it against Wales in Cardiff next week is another matter. In fact, Johnson spent as much time looking forward to the Test against the reigning champions at the Millennium Stadium as he did dwelling on yesterday. "Cardiff will be volatile, hostile, ferocious," he said. "We need to improve. We need to keep our composure in the first 25 minutes. It's a big occasion and I'm looking forward to it."
England kept their composure early on against Italy as Andy Goode got them off to a flyer and England capitalised on the outlandish decision of Nick Mallett to opt for Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half. This was the flanker's 70th cap for his country and he played like a forward, the poor devil. Talk about a square peg in a round hole. When England cross the Severn Bridge next weekend – if it's open – they will at least come up against a specialist scrum-half. Mauro, squeezed into a No 9 jersey because three of Italy's recognised scrum-halves were injured, had a nightmare.
The bookmakers had Goode at 5-6 to outscore Italy on his own. He did so, contributing 16 points with a try, four conversions and a penalty as England crossed the Azzurri line five times.
The Italians, who ran England close in Rome last year, gave their opponents a big helping hand here, and it was Mauro who was given the thumbs down. He was not directly responsible for England's opening try after just 96 seconds, but indirectly he was. The formidable Italian forwards were in control of a ruck but Mauro could not help himself. Instinct took over and he played like a wing-forward rather than a scrum-half. When the ball came back, England hacked on, and from the resultant line-out it was Goode who collected Italy's throw at the tail.
The stand-off subsequently appeared in midfield and his grub kick was perfectly judged as he beat the defence to the ball. It was his first Test try but not his first conversion, and the journeyman looked as if he was travelling in a stretch limo.
The selection of Goode over Danny Cipriani (Toby Flood was injured) epito-mised England's safety-first approach. Admittedly they did not find winning quick ball against the Italian pack an easy task, far from it, but Goode delivered about 10 times more kicks than passes and England's back three barely had a whiff of the ball.
If Mauro was under the cosh, so was his partner at stand-off, Andrea Marcato. He didn't know whether the ball was coming at his bootlaces or over his head, and he took sufficient punishment to be replaced after 28 minutes by Luke McLean. There was no relief from the massacre of Mauro, and in the 18th minute he was again embroiled in a ruck instead of being on duty. Italy allowed James Haskell, with perhaps the best skill of the match, to flick a pass to Harry Ellis. The scrum-half did well to get in at the corner from about 35 yards.
Nine minutes later, Mauro's pass was so high and wild it even flew over the head of his centres, allowing Goode to hack on and Riki Flutey to win the race for the touchdown. England were 19-0 to the good, and in the good old days they would have put Italy to the sword. They didn't.
Haskell, one of the best forwards on the field, got a yellow card for a trip on Gonzalo Canale and McLean kicked his second penalty to make it 22-6 at half-time. It was in the changing room that Mallett sucked the lemon and told Mauro enough was enough.
It didn't get much better for Italy. Ellis scampered away for his second try, and after 54 minutes the Red Rose brigade were in front by 29-6. Would they kick on? Not really. They looked like a dysfunctional family.
By the time Mark Cueto scored on his return, the scoreline was disfigured. At least the Bergamasco family salvaged something. The wing Mirco scored their only try, and it didn't come from a mistake by a scrum-half.
Man for man marking
Delon Armitage 6/10
With his mother, Varna, sitting in the stand sporting a hat as red as Lenin, he had his quietest Test yet. But then, unlike his autumn efforts, he had very little to do.
Paul Sackey 5/10
Likewise. A proven try-scorer, he had no opportunity in the first half. Italy's mistakes meant England did not have to play an expansive game.
Jamie Noon 5/10
Given a reprieve because of injury to Mike Tindall, Noon was forced to wait patiently for a pass which rarely came. As solid as ever in defence.
Riki Flutey 6/10
The beneficiary of Mauro's nightmare as the flanker-cum-scrum-half threw out another high and wild pass and Flutey was on the end of Goode's hack-on to score.
Mark Cueto 7/10
Telling break in the first half and, playing his first international since the World Cup final in Paris in 2007, looked fresh and hungry. Should have been used more, witness his late try.
Andy Goode 7/10
Couldn't have wished for a better return to the England fold. After 96 seconds he appeared at the end of a line-out to steal Italian ball and then reappeared to put in a grub kick and win the race for the touchdown.
Harry Ellis 8/10
Neither Goode nor Ellis were original selections but the reunion of the Tigers half-backs worked well for England as the scrum-half, in for the injured Danny Care, scored a couple of opportunistic tries.
Andrew Sheridan 5/10
The Desperate Dan of the scrum, whose reputation took a knock in the autumn, found the Italian front row a handful and gave way to Julian White in the second half.
Lee Mears 5/10
The hooker is usually far more at the core of things when he plays for his club, Bath, but yesterday he was fairly anonymous in the loose although he did his job in the scrums.
Phil Vickery 5/10
Has he ever had a quieter international? Usually goes off in the second half, a nod towards his seniority, but went the distance yesterday although it was by no means obvious he was on the pitch.
Steve Borthwick 5/10
The captain has been backed to the hilt by Martin Johnson, well almost, but has still to prove he's the Captain Courageous his country needs. Yes, he's a good line-out operator (it's the job of a lock forward) but is he an inspiring leader?
Nick Kennedy 5/10
Made an excellent debut against the Pacific Islanders and was then omitted. He was prominent here, making his presence felt in the loosewhile generally having a comfortable time of it in the line-out. The question is, are Borthwick and Kennedy aggressive enough?
James Haskell 7/10
Stood out in a disjointed performance and provided one of the few moments of impromptu skill when he gave a great, fast ball to Ellis that released the scrum-half forhis first try.
Nick Easter 6/10
Did some decent things yet was not as prominent as he had been in previous Tests. But then that was the story of the England pack. The other thing is that Easter was up against the admirable Sergio Parisse, who would grace any side in the Six Nations.
Steffon Armitage 6/10
Marks out of 10 on his debut? A generous six as he and the rest of the Red Rose forwards found it heavy going against a rugged, determined eight.
Dylan Hartley 5/10 The Saint came on for Mears after 55 minutes and although he tried to put himself about it was no easy task.
Julian White 5/10 Replaced Sheridan after 59 minutes, which didn't make a whole lot of sense, but late substitutions rarely do.
Tom Croft 5/10 The Tiger came on for Kennedy with seven minutes remaining and may not have touched the ball. He is an excellent back-row, though.
Joe Worsley 6/10 Had a chance after 55 minutes to make an impression and did so with some powerful runs that caught the eye, and in the context of the game that says something.
Ben Foden 5/10 Won his first cap, replacing Ellis in the 59th minute, and, perhaps not surprisingly, made a few errors.
Shane Geraghty 4/10 No sooner had he come on than he received a yellow card.
Mathew Tait 5/10 Came on in the 73rd minute. Give the boy a break.
Andrea Masi 4/10
Turning speed of an oil tanker. Fly-half for last year's Six Nations, but he didn't like it and told coach Nick Mallett so. Hence the step back in position, only to be culpable in England's first three tries.
Kaine Robertson 5/10
Went to school with Doug Howlett, who has since become one of the great All Blacks while Kaine has, er, played 36 times for Italy. He almost blew a great position but wriggled determinedly to set up Mirco Bergamasco's late try.
Gonzalo Canale 6/10
Argentinian-born stalwart of the Azzurri – there are plenty of them – who rarely lets the side down. A kind of Italian Jamie Noon, if such a thingis possible.
Gonzalo Garcia 6/10
Canale's fresher-faced centre pal was born in Mendoza; there must be extra orders of steaks in the Italy team hotel. Garcia was rather easilysidestepped by Mark Cuetoon a first-half break.
Mirco Bergamasco 7/10
A talent undimmed by toiling with the Six Nations' perennial stragglers. If he'd been born in Paris or Padstow rather than Padua he'd be a world star. Tackles like the crack of doom, to borrow from Bill McLaren.A deserved try.
Andrea Marcato 3/10
Switched to fly-half in autumn. He booted big a couple of times before hobbling off.
Mauro Bergamasco 1/10
O Sole Mauro! Mauro in the No 9 jersey was one of the battiest ideas seen in international rugby. The programme notes said he'd played at scrum-half in his formative days. What, in the womb?
Salvatore Perugini 6/10
Featured in every Italian Six Nations squad and knows his stuff. A tidy, tight battle with Phil Vickery and friends.
Fabio Ongaro 5/10
An overthrow for Andy Goode's second-minute try was a dire start. He probably blamed his lifters.
Martin Castrogiovanni 6/10
Brave man, he patted Andrew Sheridan on the head after England conceded a penalty. Sherry didn't like it and slapped him back. Then Leicester Tigers' tighthead put in a smother tackle on Riki Flutey, leapt to his feet to compete for the ball and got penalised. Close but no cigar, Castro.
Santiago Dellape 5/10
Hang on, were Italy the Pumas in disguise? The beanpole from La Plata looked a tired man when replaced: he'ddone his bit in the tight.
Marco Bortolami 5/10
Ball squirted off his boot at the back of a maul which became a ruck which became England'ssecond try. Hammered old sparring partner Steve Borthwick back with one tackle; actually the pair are cut from a similar cloth. Understated.
Josh Sole 5/10
Gosh, Josh is not Argentinian (he's from New Zealand). A handy line-out target but otherwise unremarkable. What was good for England was not good for the Sole.
Alessandro Zanni 6/10
Loomed over Steffon Armitage in stature. Held on instead of feeding Mirco Bergamasco when Italy put together a rare handling move. Then he wasa gnat's crotchet away from a try when he charged down Delon Armitage.
Sergio Parisse 7/10
Mid-air palm-down of a hotly contested high ball andone-handed slips at the base are just the skills we expect of the captain.
Luke McLean 5/10 Replaced Marcato after 29 minutes. Aussie fly-half who kicked a couple of penalties but sliced the odd punt too.
Giulio Toniolatti 6/10 On for Mauro Bergamasco at half-time for his second cap. Asked to put right the terrible wrong of the Bergamasco experiment, and made a decent job of it.
Tommaso Reato blood replacement for Bortolami (20-24, 55min).
Carlo Festuccia for Ongaro (55min).
Matteo Pratichetti for Garcia (55min).
Carlos Nieto for Perugini (60min).
Perugini back on for Castrogiovanni (66min).
Jean-François Montauriol for Dellape (75min).
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