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Player Ratings: England

OPINION: A nervous, close-run thing on the scoreboard for England wasn’t in the script for this Six Nations round-one encounter. Player Ratings by Liam Heagney live from Stadio Olimpico. 

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The consensus was that we were going to see an energy in the visitors that hadn’t been seen in a long time.

Even the likes of the now-retired Test wing Jonny May suggested that 2024 would be the real start to Steve Borthwick’s tenure 12 months after he crashed and burned in his maiden campaign in charge, his team losing at home to Scotland first-up and going on to win just a miserly two of their five championship matches.

However, instead of taking off like a rocket against an Azzurri they have never lost to, a depressingly limited England only managed a stodgy 27-24 win after they blundered their way through a terrible first half that ended with them 14-17 behind and facing huge questions about their defence after the leakage of two soft tries.

The recruitment of Felix Jones from the World Cup-winning Springboks to take care of the rearguard was meant to shut the door on opposition teams; not leave gaping holes of the kind that Alessandro Garbisi and Tommaso Allan gleefully exploited on 11 and 26 minutes.

Having trailed 0-10 and 8-17, it was only through Alex Mitchell’s 45th-minute try that England eventually hit the front after being behind since the fifth minute, but even then a victory procession didn’t follow.

There was no four-try bonus point to celebrate – they were left with just the two and their last opportunity to get a third was wasted with a penalty on their own scrum five metres from the Italian line.

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That was costly as the hosts played on for five added minutes and were eventually gifted a losing bonus as Monty Ioane completed Fraser Dingwall’s debut to forget by giving him the slip to score a third Italian try.

If there was straw to clutch amid the English gloom, this will at least go into the history books as their first round one win since 2019 in Dublin, a crumb of comfort that gives them something to try and build on next weekend when they host Wales in London.

Here are the England player ratings:

15. Freddie Steward – 5.5
Had his World Cup issues, getting dropped and also picked on the wing, and he can’t be happy here with how the England defence gave up two first-half stroll-ins and was then cut open at the finish. On the upside, his carry was important in the lead-taking Mitchell try.

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14. Tommy Freeman – 7.5
A first appearance under Borthwick, he more than justified his recall. His offload to put in Elliot Daly, when he smartly popped up in the left wing channel, was sweet and the few extra kilos he added gave the impression of greater comfort at Test level. His backside was also on show, Italy desperately hauling down by the shorts neat the interval.

13. Henry Slade – 6.5
Another on the comeback trail with something to prove having been axed for the World Cup, his defensive partnership with Dingwall didn’t inspire but he was smart with the ball on occasion, as seen in the run he made when helping to tee up the Daly try.

12. Fraser Dingwall – 3.5
A player with the patience of Job waiting for this Test debut, given the number of squads he was involved in without even playing, he encountered a baptism of fire defensively and will likely be a fall guy in the inner sanctum post-mortem.

11. Elliot Daly – 5.5
Took his first-half try well on 20 minutes but would have been aghast at being left facing a three-on-one in defence around the halfway line six minutes later for the second Italian try. Yellow carded in the 76th minute for foot-tripping Tommaso Menoncell.

10. George Ford – 6.5
His experience was needed in digging England out of a huge hole. Mixed up his game – look at the dummy that led to Steward being tackled without the ball and England getting three first-half points back. Was six from seven off the tee for 17 invaluable points before exiting on 67 minutes. His inevitable detractors, though, will now demand a start for rookie Fin Smith.

9. Alex Mitchell – 6.5
Beat off an infected leg wound to take his place in the starting line-up and his running presence was important given he scored the try that gave England the lead they weren’t to lose.

1. Joe Marler – 5.5
Chalked up a decent tackle tally but offered little else. Way less of a presence than he was against South Africa in the World Cup semi-final.

2. Jamie George – 6
The new skipper didn’t lead his side to an inspiring performance even though he finished as his team’s joint-highest tackler.

3. Will Stuart – 5.5
Got on the ball loads but had nothing to show for it. Scrums were few and far between and it was 51 minutes before England had one of their own to feed into. It ended well with a penalty win.

4. Maro Itoje – 6
An inconsistent afternoon that was summed up just after the break when he expertly tackled and won a breakdown penalty only to miss his subsequent catch at the lineout under pressure from Federico Ruzza. Gave Italy their opening penalty points with offside and would have cost his team another three for the same type of offence if Allan didn’t miss on 59 minutes.

5. Ollie Chessum – 5.5
Gave up England’s first penalty concession for no release and that was the prompt for his team’s forgettable first half. Missed too many tackles.

6. Ethan Roots – 7.5
Like a jumbo jet taking off, the debut-maker made a slow start but he eventually rose to the occasion and did enough to be voted the official player of the match. His ball-carrying was important in England’s revival.

7. Sam Underhill – 5.5
Wasn’t the huge presence he was expected to be. Limited impact against a pent-up Italian pack.

8. Ben Earl – 7
The unexpected star of the World Cup, he eventually continued where he left off by carrying the fight to Italy when England most needed it.

Replacements:
16. Theo Dan – No Rating
Only a 74th-minute introduction for George.

17. Beno Obano – No Rating
There were 76 minutes played when the late call-up for Ellis Genge finally got a run.

18. Dan Cole – 5
The first of the bench to get used, arriving into the fray on 56 minutes. Very limited impact.

19. Alex Coles – No Rating
It took Chessum getting a bang on 73 minutes for him to get sent on.

20. Chandler Cunningham-South – 7
There were 67 minutes played when he replaced Underhill and his debut impacts were excellent, making a massive cover tackle in his 22 on Federico Mori with Italy looking for a lifeline try and then managing an impressive carry. Looked a natural at this level.

21. Danny Care – 5.5
A 59th-minute arrival with England holding a seven-point advantage. Didn’t provide the hurry-up seen during some of his sub appearances off the World Cup bench.

22. Fin Smith – 5
A 67th-minute introduction with Cunningham-South after Ford had just kicked England 27-17 ahead, his debut passed by without England adding to the scoreboard.

23. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso – No Rating
A short-lived debut as a 77th-minute sub for Freeman.

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