Six Nations: England live dangerously against Italy in pursuit of Grand Slam

England 18 Italy 11: Narrow Twickenham victory leaves England's Grand Slam push still on

Twickenham

As the extraordinary Beppe Grillo has spent the last few weeks demonstrating to the acute consternation of the entire European political class, Italians are never more dangerous than when they are dismissed as clowns. The Azzurri were deadly serious opponents for England yesterday – to be sure, there were precious few signs of red-rose laughter at any point during a tourniquet-tight contest – and while the big prizes are still available to Chris Robshaw and company, they will not travel to Wales for the weekend's finale in the best of spirits.

The deeply alarming truth of it was that the overwhelming favourites spent the last quarter of an hour fighting tooth and nail, and then hanging on for dear life. But for some missed kicks by the Italian outside-half Luciano Orquera and a couple of fumbles in contact just when the home defence was beginning to crack and splinter, the Grand Slam dream would have evaporated and the Welsh would be front-runners to land another Six Nations title. Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, was not joking when he admitted afterwards that his side will have to deliver improvements across the board and off the scale to hold the resurgent Red Dragonhood when they venture across the river Severn.

All things considered, he was not in the mood for wisecracks. Not only did his charges end the afternoon in the tryless state to which they are becoming too accustomed for comfort, they also allowed the rank outsiders in blue to show greater adventure – and, yes, greater class – with ball in hand.

Perhaps the Twickenham crowd, positively awash with smug assumption before kick-off, expected to see something special from the Azzurri captain Sergio Parisse – by common consent the best No 8 in world rugby and the one Italian who could demand a place in any international side, including the All Blacks.

Parisse was indeed brilliant: his attacking double act with Alessandro Zanni down the narrow channels was every bit as accomplished as his peerless aerial game and his perfectly timed tackling around the fringes of ruck and maul. But there were other striking contributions, particularly from the visiting back three, that few predicted, or even thought possible. If the sole Italian try, which arrived eight minutes into the second half, was the result of an English muddle – Danny Care managed to propel a bog-standard clearance in the wrong direction, while Chris Ashton's positional discombobulation allowed Luke McLean to maximise Orquera's kick to the corner with a minimum of fuss and bother – there could easily have been a couple of others. England, meanwhile, were restricted to half a dozen penalties from the boot of Toby Flood. It was a deeply unsatisfying return.

Lancaster's side began well enough, with Mako Vunipola, on his first international start, sending the infinitely more experienced Martin Castrogiovanni skywards as the packs met for their initial stag-fight scrum. Castrogiovanni was duly penalised, Flood took advantage with a left-sided goal and the pre-match script was being followed.

By the end of the first quarter, Flood had doubled his tally and Vunipola was having himself a party, in open field as well as at the set-piece. But Zanni and his equally impressive fellow forward Leonardo Ghiraldini earned Orquera a shot of his own with some aggressive work from an attacking line-out, and when Parisse treated the Twickenham multitudes to a glimpse of his genius down the right, only a dodgy knock-on call from the referee George Clancy saved England from a nasty blow to the solar plexus.

At this stage, the Italians did not look like a team who thought they could win. They were, however, super-strong in defence. Gonzalo Garcia missed next to nothing in midfield, where England's creativity deficit was again evident for all with eyes to see, and there were some brave interventions from the long-serving Andrea Masi, who put in a serious shift at full-back. Even when the Azzurri defensive system malfunctioned, England could not find a way to cross their line. One attack, which briefly offered them a five-man overlap, ended with Flood chasing the try himself and being held up my Masi and the scrum-half Edoardo Gori.

When Gori was dispatched to the cooler after having a low kick charged down by Flood and then obstructing the Leicester player as he looked to capitalise, it seemed likely that England would up the tempo and send the scoreboard spinning. Frustratingly for them, they had to settle for two more three-pointers from the kicking tee, although Ashton might have made more of a break down the right shortly after Gori's departure.

Back to full strength after the interval, the Italians grew to their full size while England shrank, man by man. A further exchange of penalties preceded McLean's try and when Giovanbattista Venditti swatted Mike Brown aside in the course of a rampage down the right – Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt also failed to bring the wing to earth – Orquera was granted another shot at the sticks. Had he nailed it, the Azzurri would have been within a point of squaring it. Sadly for him and his kind, he missed.

Yet there was not the slightest hint of the Italians reluctantly giving it up as a bad job. Even when Tom Youngs, one of the brighter performers in the England side, scrambled effectively in the visiting 22 to earn Flood the last of his penalties, Parisse and his courageous colleagues sucked in air, puffed out their chests and went after their hosts with renewed vigour. At the death they pieced together a long, multi-phased attack – Tobias Botes, the replacement half-back, was particularly clever in orchestrating the production – and would surely have scored but for Davide Giazzon's handling failure at the crucial moment.

So it was that Lancaster's men dodged perhaps the most dangerous Azzurri bullet ever fired in their direction. They will feel suitably relieved, but also apprehensive. Wales are now within a single-score victory of denying them both the title and the Slam. They have six days to get a grip.

England: man for man

15. Alex Goode

Much of the intelligent attacking work came from the Saracen, but his levels dropped after break. 5.5/10

14. Chris Ashton

Improvement in physical chores, but positional awareness lacking. A wing in need of GPS. 4.5/10

13. Manu Tuilagi

As anonymous as he has ever been for England. No Italians ran through him, he ran through no Italians. 5/10

12. Brad Barritt

Even the one-man barricade was stormed and, while he didn't break, attacking limitations were clear. 5/10

11. Mike Brown

Might have scored a chaser's try in first half, but could easily have cost England seven points in second. 5/10

10. Toby Flood

Played flatter than Owen Farrell and gave England width, but his butchery of an opportunity before the break was criminal. 5.5/10

9. Danny Care

Too harem-scarem for comfort, he made Italians' try for them with kick that was an affront to technique. 4/10

1. Mako Vunipola

England's most effective player with his heavy-duty scrummaging, ball-carrying and ruck-setting. His substitution was mysterious. 8/10

2. Tom Youngs

Eye-catching. Hooker with centre's hands was excellent in contact. 8/10

3. Dan Cole

More comfortable at the set piece than against France and handy presence in hurly-burly of the loose.7/10

4. Joe Launchbury

Continued to look part. New-age forward made athleticism count. 7.5/10

5. Geoff Parling

Failed to last but had been busy on the carry, if not most powerful. 5/10

6. James Haskell

Started with a roar, but England were a footballer short in back row. Substitution was predictable.5.5/10

7. Chris Robshaw

No "man of the match" this time. Worked socks off but Italian back-rowers finished in ascendancy.6/10

8. Tom Wood

There's playing out of position, and then there's playing out of position against Parisse. Enough said. 5/10

Best off the bench: Ben Youngs

Energetic and on the money with tactical kicking.7/10

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker