World Rugby

George Ford-Inspired England Holds Off Italy To Start Six Nations With Win

George Ford-Inspired England Holds Off Italy To Start Six Nations With Win

England defeated Italy 27-24 at the Stadio Olimpico in Round 1 of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, as George Ford slotted five penalties.

Feb 3, 2024
George Ford-Inspired England Holds Off Italy To Start Six Nations With Win

England opened its Six Nations campaign with a 27-24 win over Italy but was made to work for the result, which was far from a formality.

Italy started the stronger, with Tommaso Allan converting an early penalty, before Lorenzo Cannone found a gap and offloaded to Alessandro Garbisi, who scored under the sticks. 

Cue an eruption of noise from the packed Stadio Olympico crowd.

England responded, first with a George Ford penalty, and then struck gold when Tommy Freeman, arching a brilliant hidden line, ran through the Italian defense and offloaded to Elliot Daly to score. 

Momentum swung back Italy’s way when Allan got on the end of a lovely wrap-around move, but England once again narrowed the deficit with two Ford penalties, giving the hosts a 17-14 lead at the break.

England responded after the interval and took the lead thanks to the work of Alex Mitchell, who found a gap in the Italian defense, much to the delight of his teammates.

A further penalty from Ford pushed the visitors further in front, and despite some valiant attacking efforts and plenty of territory deep in the England half, Italy failed to gather a single point for much of the second half. The Italians managed to end things on a high with a breakaway try from Monty Ioane with the clock in the red.

The losing bonus point will help ease Italian heartbreak, as their hunt for a first win over England goes on.

Tale Of The Tape

Italy started in exactly the right fashion, opening up spaces in the England defense with some brilliant codified runs and slick moves out the back. Their ability to make something in broken play is hugely impressive and shows a newfound maturity from the Italy side, which has promised a lot with such youthful talent in camp.

However, with youth comes inexperience, and that showed in the second 40 when Italian heads dropped in the face of a resurgent England. There were enough positive signs, particularly in attack, giving enough hope that Gonzalo Quesada’s men could pick up a result in this tournament.

In the end, the score mattered most for England. It was at times hard-fought and more tightly contested than they would have wanted, but Steve Borthwick can emerge satisfied that some new faces are ready to make their marks.

Ethan Roots and Tommy Freeman, in particular, looked lively throughout, giving England a bit of extra bite by hitting rucks and powering through tacklers.

Key Moment

The last time Italy entered the break in a Six Nations game ahead, they went on to win it. That was against Wales two years ago. You could be forgiven for thinking this was their moment, as the second half began with the hosts holding a three-point advantage.

However, those hopes slowly faded as England gained traction, taking the lead for the first time with Mitchell’s riveting run towards the try line early in the second period.

The try put England in front for the first time and dented Italian resolve, the men in blue never truly recovering from the sucker punch.

The inaccuracy of Allan off the boot and the poise of Ford in front of the posts in the aftermath edged England further ahead and meant the result never really looked in question.

Man Of The Match

Had Italy maintained its first-half form, any number of the backs could have earned this accolade. Instead, the honor falls to Tommy Freeman, who proved he’s ready to make a strong second run at an international career, bringing his Northampton Saints form to Rome.

He was instrumental in England’s opening try, hiding behind Henry Slade, before pouncing through a gap and setting up Daly out wide. 

Beyond that key moment, the winger was a constant presence in the midfield, carrying the ball into Italian traffic and always seemed to come out on top.

He’s a big ball-carrying presence with a burst of pace who can offer a lot to Borthwick’s future plans.

A Look Ahead To Next Week

England passed its first test but knows it'll have to come to Twickenham prepared next week to face a young Wales side with plenty to prove. 

The rivalry between England and Wales always makes for a spikey affair, and that will be no different in Round 2.

It only gets harder for Italy next Sunday with a meeting with a red-hot Ireland in Dublin. Andy Farrell’s men put in a pitch-perfect performance in Paris to topple France with a record score and look set to continue that barreling run against the Azzurri.

Join The Conversation On FloRugby Social