Rugby: Sloppy England rally for comeback victory over Italy in Six Nations opener

England have recovered from a scruffy start and a 17-8 deficit to beat Italy 27-24 in their opening Six Nations game at Rome, ending a run of four successive opening round defeats in the championship.

Italy led 17-14 at halftime and a late try earned them a losing bonus point in their most competitive Six Nations performance against England - the only team they have never beaten in the competition.

England took a long time to find their groove and will be concerned over defensive lapses, but coach Steve Borthwick will be pleased with the performances of five debutants, not least man-of-the-match back rower Ethan Roots.

England celebrate Alex Mitchell's try against Italy.
England celebrate Alex Mitchell's try against Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It is pretty surreal," said New Zealand-born Roots. "Words can't describe it - it is special. 

"Steve just said bring your point of difference and bring that into the team. Of course, you will be nervous on you debut, we know the Italians are passionate and they never go away, but luckily we come away with the win.

"I think we stayed in the fight but full credit to the Italians they stayed in it and it was a great game."

England's newlook squad contained only 12 of the 23 that lost the World Cup semi-final to South Africa and they looked disorganised from the start, particularly defensively.

By contrast, with new coach Gonzalo Quesada promising a more pragmatic approach after they had a disastrous World Cup, Italy were cohesive and sharp from the start.

Tommaso Allan put them ahead with a penalty, before Lorenzo Cannone sent Alessandro Garbisi clear for the opening try, although England protested a forward pass.

England hit back when Tommy Freeman, showing the barnstorming running that earned him an international recall, broke through and offloaded for Elliot Daly to score.

Italy responded immediately, as England's defence got into a hopeless mix-up to allow Allan all the space he needed to gallop under the posts.

Ford penalties

Two George Ford penalties closed the gap to 17-14 at halftime, somewhat flattering for England.

The odds-on favourites finally edged ahead five minutes into the second half, when scrumhalf Alex Mitchell showed great determination to squirm through two tackles and touch down.

Another Ford penalty stretched the lead, as Italy struggled for any sort of foothold in the face of aggressive England blitz defence. When they did get a chance to close the gap after an hour, Allan missed his penalty attempt.

England sent on two more debutants in flyhalf Fin Smith and flanker Chandler Cunningham-South, and when winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso made it five, it was the most since Stuart Lancaster's first game in charge in the opening game of the 2012 Six Nations.

England won an 80th-minute penalty that they could have popped over for a 30-17 win, but they opted for a scrum and were penalised, allowing Italy to kick for a lineout and send Monty Ioane clear down the wing through a few soft tackles to earn Italy's losing bonus point.

England host Wales next Saturday and Italy face the daunting prospect of a trip to Dublin to face championship favourites Ireland, who beat France 38-17 in Paris on Friday.