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Six Nations 2024: Italy 24-27 England - Visitors come from behind for narrow win in Rome

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell scored England's second try to overturn the half-time deficit and steer them towards victory

Guinness Six Nations: Italy v England

Italy: (17) 24

Tries: A Garbisi, Allan, Ioane Con: Allan 2, P Garbisi Pen: Allan

England: (14) 27

Tries: Daly, Mitchell Con: Ford Pen: Ford 5

England dominated the second half to come from behind and launch their Six Nations campaign with victory in Italy.

Alex Mitchell's try after the interval overturned a narrow deficit before George Ford's boot edged England clear.

The Azzurri had threatened a first win over England as Alessandro Garbisi and Tommaso Allan scored either side of an Elliot Daly finish for the visitors.

Monty Ioane scored a late consolation and earned a losing bonus point in Italy's smallest defeat by England.

Victory for the visitors, meanwhile, ended their run of four opening-game defeats in the Six Nations.

Jamie George took over the captaincy reins while head coach Borthwick also gave five England debuts for the first time since seven players won their first cap against Scotland in 2012.

Fraser Dingwall and man of the match Ethan Roots impressed from the start before Fin Smith, Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso began their Test careers off the bench.

England host Wales in round two at Twickenham next Saturday, while the Azzurri travel to defending champions Ireland the following afternoon.

New England era stutters to winning start

Before a ball was kicked George suggested England would show more potency in attack, compared with previous sides to wear the red rose.

The hooker's words proved to be of some substance, in intent if not delivery. The visitors threw the ball around early on as flanker Roots carried tirelessly and wing Tommy Freeman cut incisive lines all afternoon.

But the defence, under the guidance of new specialist coach Felix Jones, was ruthlessly exposed in the first half as well as showing glimpses of England's direction.

Jones coached South Africa's defence for back-to-back World Cup triumphs and wanted his new England charges to impose a blitz strategy on the Azzurri attackers.

Instead, Italy ripped through early on as Juan Ignacio Brex pierced the line before scrum-half Alessandro Garbisi dotted down under the posts.

Freeman stepped back onto a whipped pass by Freddie Steward to hand Daly a walk-in as England hit back but they were undone again moments later in a seemingly simple wrap-around move in midfield.

Brex was key again as he received a flat pass and returned it to Paolo Garbisi behind him before the flowing move ended with Allan - becoming his country's leading points and try-scorer in the Six Nations - under the posts.

But the second half was better for Borthwick's side.

Mitchell showed all of his nous to wriggle free and snipe over as England quickly responded to the words of their coaches after the break. The defence also tightened up and the blitz began to take effect as it forced Italy's pacy backs inside and into heavy traffic.

It meant the Azzurri failed to score a second-half point until after the 80th minute when Ioane scampered clear with the game already lost, but rivals Wales next week will certainly pose a more sustained examination of Jones and his England defence.

Debutants handed chance

Over half of England's starting team was different from the side beaten by the Springboks in the World Cup semi-finals in October.

Owen Farrell's decision to make himself unavailable saw his friend and long-time team-mate George elected captain by Borthwick.

The international retirement of Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs and Jonny May, an injury to Manu Tuilagi and several overseas players ineligible for selection meant it was a balanced squad of experience and youth named to face a side who had lost their last 29 games in Rome.

New-Zealand born Roots was the standout of the five new faces and often found himself thrown the ball in the loose to dent the blue wall, while Freeman starred on his fourth international appearance as he looked to come inside and make work for himself.

Cunningham-South was bright off the bench and made a late surge down the left while Feyi-Waboso, known for his powerful running, produced an excellent covering tackle near the right touchline to the adulation of his team-mates in the final stages.

England are likely to rely on youth heavily in the coming weeks when injuries, which have already accounted for Marcus Smith and Ellis Genge's late unavailability in the Eternal City, inevitably begin to appear.

But the early signs for Borthwick and his staff are promising.

Line-ups

Italy: Allan; Pani, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; P Garbisi, A Garbisi; Fischetti, Lucchesi, Ceccarelli, N Cannone, Ruzza, Negri, Lamaro (capt), L Cannone.

Replacements: Nicotera, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Zambonin, Izekor, Zuliani, Varney, Mori

England: Steward; Freeman, Slade, Dingwall, Daly; Ford, Mitchell; Marler, George (capt), Stuart, Itoje, Chessum, Roots, Underhill, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Obano, Cole, Coles, Cunningham-South, Care, F Smith, Feyi-Waboso