We thought we'd lost you, England

Woodward: 'Perhaps this will prove that we're nowhere near as good as some people seem to think we are'
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The Independent Online

Fiercely committed and utterly determined, yet ultimately lacking that all-important killer touch. But enough about England's performance in the opening quarter of an hour.

Fiercely committed and utterly determined, yet ultimately lacking that all-important killer touch. But enough about England's performance in the opening quarter of an hour.

Until the home side's opening try after 13 minutes, following a wonderfully crafted move between the right wing, Austin Healey, and the No 8, Lawrence Dallaglio, Italy were surprisingly dominant. Truth be told, the visitors more than held their own throughout the first half. In fact, had it not been for some decidedly generous refereeing by Stuart Dickinson of Australia, Italy might have gone into the break in the lead.

"Perhaps this will prove that we're nowhere near as good as some people seem to think," Clive Woodward, the England manager, said after the game. "We need to stay realistic. On this evidence, we showed that we were capable of the worst [in the first half] and the very best [in the second].We just have to get it right over a longer period of time."

Who could have predicted that after 30 minutes the scoreboard would read Italy 20, England 17? Not the Twickenham crowd, who were unsure whether to applaud the hearty Italians or jeer the uninspired English. Most, surely, would have bet on all those points being logged against the home side's name.

Not, too, the England management team, who looked perplexed by the strange developments. "Obviously, we were concerned by the way the match was panning out," Woodward admitted. "We weren't playing that well, but I think you also have to say well done to Italy. For some reason, we didn't seem to have that intensity which we have shown in recent games. We looked a little subdued."

It is not hard to imagine what language might have been used during the interval, after England jogged off only 10 points to the good. However, Woodward said: "Believe it or not, there was not much ranting and raving. We stayed cool and calm, and I'm pleased that the right things were said."

One of the men who had a couple of points to make was the England captain, Martin Johnson. "I just told the lads that we were making too many mistakes and putting ourselves under unnecessary pressure as a result," he said. "You have to admit that they played spot-on, but I felt that in a way we were a victim of our own ambitions, because if you decide to play out wide all the time, you run the risk of things going wrong if the bold moves don't come off."

Presumably, Johnson's language was more direct in the dressing-room and, whatever he really did say, it seemed to do the trick. It took all of two minutes of the the second half for the men in white to play the sort of rugby we would expect of a team unbeaten in their previous six Tests, including victories against South Africa (home and away) as well as the world champions, Australia.

A powerful drive, some quick recycling of the ball and a clinical finish from Ben Cohen. Welcome back, England. We waited long enough.

"You always knew they were capable of playing some good stuff," said the Italy coach, Brad Johnstone. "I thought we played our best rugby for two years in the first half, but we lost our concentration very early in the second and folded completely. We needed to start the second half well to stand a chance, but we conceded a quick try instead. I felt there and then that was it."

England went on to break more records than a clumsy vinyl collector and, in Jonny Wilkinson, had the outstanding player of the match as they won the game, scored 80 points and continued their march on the Grand Slam. "When you consider that we played badly in the first half, yet scored 33 points, you have to be quite pleased overall," said the England coach, Andy Robinson. "We can only play better, and that's encouraging after you have just secured a record championship win."

Another plus for England was the sight of Jason Robinson winning his first cap. Though his performance was somewhat forgettable, the Sale man won't forget his debut. Having looked a little lost immediately after coming on as a second-half substitute for Cohen, the former rugby league international showed what he might be able to offer in the future. One burst in particular, on the hour mark, was full of pace and energy.

"That was pure Jason," Woodward said. "He's still down the pecking order, but I was happy with his showing. The reception he got from the crowd was particularly pleasing and I think he showed that he can add to the squad."

Woodward added: "I think everyone needs to realise that it's difficult for someone like him to come in because he's new to the group and inter-national rugby." The new boys Italy know how he feels.

This was England's day in the end, but Italy didn't half scare them. Well, for a half at least.

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