SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: His verdict as England beat Italy in Six Nations

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England did not dazzle in their Six Nations win over Italy but they would have taken the score before the match and can now look to give fans moments of cheer

  • England defeated Italy 35-4 to earn a bonus point in the Six Nations on Saturday
  • The match was not a thriller but Sir Clive Woodward was pleased by what he saw
  • Ben Youngs played well on his 100th test appearance despite England’s flaws
  • England were later crowned champions after France beat Ireland in Saint-Denis 

It wasn’t pretty and it probably didnt raise your pulse sitting on your settees back home, but after seven months without Test rugby England will settle for a bonus-point win against Italy in Rome.

It is difficult to judge just how good the performance was but if you had given England that winning margin before kick off, they would have taken it.

England were very scrappy in the first half — and that’s being kind. Of course they were a bit rusty, but they were dull mentally as well.

Sir Clive Woodward reckons it is difficult to judge how well England performed in beating Italy

The revered coach says that the likes of Ben Youngs would have taken the 35-4 win pre-match 

Eddie Jones said he wanted to produce a performance for the fans to be proud of in these difficult times. But it just didn’t happen in the first half, when they kicked the ball away 22 times.

When you kick, you have got to know exactly why you are doing so. Is it for territory or is it to retrieve the ball and attack? England fell between the two far too often.

Possibly England had seen Matteo Minozzi struggle badly in the rain at Twickenham lst week in the Premiership final. He was much more assured in dry conditions in Rome and the tactic didn’t really work. England should have got the ball through their hands more to bring their serious pace to bear.

There was much talk before the game about Henry Slade at 12 and Jonathan Joseph at 13 — I would have Slade at 13 every time — but frankly it was irrelevant because neithercentre was really involved.

It had all looked so promising in the first five minutes when England were true to their promise of making a quick start.

Ben Youngs’ try on his 100th Test appearance was absolutely textbook support-line running and when he is in try-scoring mood, England normally go well. But they went back into their shells too quickly.

England had the last laugh but struggled to build on the momentum of an impressive early try 

A good try very early in the game doesn’t always herald a great performance, you need to back it up quickly. I was shaking my head when England were awarded that penalty in front of the posts which Owen Farrell opted to kick. What England needed was a strong scrum and lighting attack off the base leading to a converted try. Get the show on the road. Instead, Jake Polledri powering in for a fine try.

The second half was much better — it had to be — and England’s kicking was more intelligent. It was all started by Youngs with his sharply-taken second try — a trademark score from him.

I am full of admiration for Youngs, even if I have occasionally been critical. It is possible to be both. No player is undroppaable, I dropped everybody except Richard Hill during my time as coach! You just pick your strongest side and take it from there.

Youngs is one of those players who has the ability and temperament to set the tempo for a team and when he does so, England are always a better team for it. Recently, Dan Robson has shown the better form at club level. Young’s performance last night was the best response.

He was comfortably England’s best player and his display spelled out that he is still the first choice .

It was a familiar story for Italy as they interspersed moments of excellence with little cohesion 

Robson will have to maintain his excellence to challenge — which is the perfect situation for Eddie. Youngs remains hungry, is still only 31 and has shown his resilience and incredible dedication to reach 100 caps. He is clearly not finished yet.

After Youngs’ second try, England were really focused on the main objective, which was achieving that bonus-point win.

Ad for the Italians, it was the old story. Good individual moments but very little team cohesion. I have never heard a side celebrate turn-overs and penalties quite so much, which at least demonstrates some passion. Perhaps they felt they had to create their own atmosphere.

Coach Franco Smith has a massive job ahead of him. All he can do for the time being is look at those periods of 10-15 minutes when Italy play well and find a way of extending these to 20-25 mintues.

His team have to give themselves a chance by staying in the game.

There will be plenty of opportunity for that in the Autumn Cup when I would expect England to kick on and start showcasing their skills and ability.

It looks like the months ahead are going to be trying for many of us, so hopefully the rugby team can produce some moments to cheer everybody up.

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